Indian River County residents know the drill.
Dozens of citizens flocked to grocery stores Wednesday and Thursday stocking up on bottled water, bread, canned food and other supplies ahead of Hurricane Dorian. The hurricane remained a category 1 with maximum winds of 85 mph Thursday afternoon.
“(Hurricane Dorian) could potentially made landfall as a category 4 when it approaches the east coast of Florida,” National Weather Service in Melbourne Meteorologist Derrick Weitlich said. “It’s a very serious situation. The entire state is still within the cone of uncertainty.”
The storm was moving northwest at 13 mph toward Florida’s east coast. Hurricane Dorian could bring damaging winds, torrential rainfall and storm surge, which is the abnormal rising of water from storms.
Even though the storm is a few days out from potentially reaching the county, Meteorologist Kevin Rodriguez said residents should prepare now for a major hurricane. Everyone should have all their storm-related errands done by Saturday night, Rodriguez said.
“As the storm approaches the coast, it will slow down,” Rodriguez said. “That will increase the time that an area experiences tropical storm force (or hurricane) winds.”
Thursday, customers at the Vero Beach Walmart purchased bread, canned food and noodle dinners. Bread shelves were nearly empty Thursday afternoon.
Residents also bought several supplies, including coolers and toiletries, from Walmart and Sam’s Club next door. Some residents said they planned to hunker down at their homes to ride out Hurricane Dorian.
The Walking Tree Brewery announced in a Facebook post it was giving free water to residents so they can fill up their reusable jugs.
Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency for several counties ahead of the oncoming storm. Tad Stone, Director for the Indian River County Emergency Services Department, said officials were finalizing shelter plans and preparing for the worst.
The impact from Dorian’s winds and rainfall could sweep across Indian River County by Sunday afternoon. Weather forecasters said the hurricane was expected to strengthen within the next couple of days.
A hurricane watch will likely be issued for a significant part of eastern central Florida by Friday evening, officials said. Details on shelters that will be open were not immediately available.
Some residents plan to hunker down
Dorian will be the first hurricane for residents Julie, 52, and her husband Tim Nerat, 60.
The Vero Beach couple bought several supplies, including food, water and batteries, Thursday from Walmart ahead of Hurricane Dorian. The Nerat’s, who moved to Vero Beach in July 2018, said they live in Village Green mobile home park and do not plan to evacuate.
“I’m a little scared,” Julie Nerat said. “It’s a lot scarier because it’s very uncertain until the last minute. You never know which way it’s going to go.”
Several aisles, including for bread, coolers, and canned food, were almost empty Thursday at Walmart Supercenter, 5555 20th Street. Employees were refilling one aisle with pallets of bottled water.
Vero Beach resident Brunel Marcelus was purchasing water, sardines and bread. The 55-year-old said he planned to put up hurricane shutters at his home and hunker down.
Marcelus, who has lived in Vero Beach for the past 12 years, said he followed the same procedure for Hurricane Irma in 2017 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Pastor Greg Sempsrott, of Vero Bible Fellowship, said he also plans to hunker down. The 61-year-old pastor was gathering supplies at Walmart.
“I’m trying to take care of my house first so I can help others get ready,” Sempsrott said. “I want to be done with my home today so Friday and Saturday I can focus on helping others with tasks they can’t do on their own.”
Sempsrott said he will focus on putting up hurricane shutters for homeowners and renters and make sure their doors are locked securely.
“We moved to Vero recently. The whole neighborhood helps one another,” Sempsrott said. Sempsrott said he will talk with his church congregation to make sure all members have the support they need during the storm.
“People need support when these things happen,” Sempsrott said.
Tad Stone, Director for Indian River County Emergency Services Department, said officials requested the state deliver pallets of bottled water from Orlando to Indian River County. The bottled water was expected to arrive Thursday.
Thursday, the county’s public works department began removing traffic signals that were hanging from span-wire support systems. The removal is to prevent the signals from becoming projectiles during high winds, officials said.
At least one signal will stay in place for each direction of the intersection, emergency officials said. If a traffic signal is malfunctioning, motorists should treat red flashing lights as stop signs, yellow flashing lights to drive with caution and a signal with no light as a four-way stop sign.
Closings, early releases, cancellations
- All City of Vero Beach parks, beaches, recreation facilities and recreation programs will close at 5 p.m. Friday until further notice.
- The Humane Society of Vero Beach & Indian River County will close Friday. The center will still be accepting donations and the wellness clinic will be open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. for rabies vaccinations and micro-chipping.
- All courthouses in the 19th Judicial Circuit will close at noon Friday.
- Classes for the school district will have an early release Friday. All after-care programs and after-school activities will be cancelled.
- All performances at the Riverside Theatre scheduled for this weekend were cancelled.
Emergency Services – Things to do now
- Know if you reside in an evacuation area – mobile/manufactured home, barrier island, areas known to flood, sub-standard housing, possibly east of U.S. 1.
- Know what your evacuation plan will be
- Have seven days worth of supplies, including food, water, prescription medications, flashlights and batteries, and pet items.
- Clear your yard of any potential debris hazards, including outdoor furniture, potted plants, garbage containers, bird feeders, ornaments and more.
- Residents should remove vegetative debris from all drainage inlets, swales, ditches and roadways. Vegetative debris blocking drainage systems is a common cause for street flooding during rain storms.
- Fill your gas tanks.
- Have cash on hand.
- Gather and secure your important papers, photos and heirlooms.
- Monitor media reports and the Indian River County government website for updates.
- Residents should not call 911 for questions regarding Hurricane Dorian. Instead, residents should call the Emergency Services Department hotline at 772-226-4000 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Photos of aisles in Walmart and Sam’s Club in Vero Beach, taken by Nick Samuel and provided by Chelsie Thornton
This story will be updated.