Irma response highlights lack of Venice shelter options – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

VENICE — When metropolis officers determined to open the Venice Group Middle as a shelter throughout Hurricane Irma, it did so in opposition to Sarasota County needs but in addition based mostly on a perception that those that did take shelter there — roughly 400 folks — would have stayed at residence quite than drive to accepted shelters in Sarasota and North Port.

As Sarasota County opened 10 shelters in preparation for Irma evacuees, none of them had been in or close to town of Venice as a result of of both shelter power or concern they'd be weak to storm surge. Metropolis officers believed opening a Class three hardened neighborhood heart was the lesser of two evils, though on the time Irma was a Class four storm, versus having metropolis residents selecting to remain residence.

“I do know the folks of Venice properly sufficient to know that the overwhelming majority of people who stayed in the neighborhood heart wouldn't have gone to Sarasota, wouldn't have gone to North Port,” Venice Mayor John Holic mentioned Monday. “They'd have gone again to their homes.”

The thought of metropolis first responders having to go door-to-door to examine on the welfare of residents — many of whom reside in 1940s or '50s period housing inventory — made Holic and different officers really feel that opening the neighborhood heart the correct alternative.

“Was it an ample shelter? Not if it had been a stronger hurricane,” Holic mentioned. “Was it ample for what we had? Most positively.

“We lucked out, the hurricane weakened, we had been on the weak facet of it, every little thing got here collectively,” he added. “I feel luck is simply too weak of a phrase. We had been blessed.”

Since Irma handed, metropolis and county officers have additionally engaged in a bit of an e mail again-and-forth, to see what alternate options could also be out there for the long run.

Holic requested for clarification on when selections had been made to open particular shelters, in addition to their elevation and wind load capability, and whether or not a shelter was pet pleasant.

Nonetheless, he's among the many first to confess that opening the neighborhood heart — which was hardened to face up to a Class three hurricane when it was rebuilt with cash from a 2003 bond situation — shouldn't be an ideal answer for the long run.

“We have to do one thing and we have to do one thing fast,” Holic mentioned. “We’ must have one thing right here by subsequent yr.”

Sarasota County works with the Sarasota County College District to determine shelters — statewide these are sometimes faculty buildings designed to face up to a sure wind stage — and opens them in 4 separate tiers. The colleges are ranked on power and site and opened based mostly on want.

Taylor Ranch Elementary College, a fourth-tier faculty, was dominated out as a result of its location, development, and potential flooding.

Each faculties inside the metropolis limits — Venice Excessive College and Venice Elementary College — are comparatively new buildings however should not thought of options as a result of of each the potential for inundation from storm surge and since they could possibly be reduce off if the bridges to the island of Venice are disabled.

Assistant Superintendent of Faculties Scott Lempe mentioned that Venice Excessive was constructed to trendy constructing codes however “we didn't improve it for hurricane safety; we constructed it for constructing code.”

The opposite three space faculties, Venice Center College and Backyard Elementary College on Middle Street and Laurel Nokomis College on Laurel Street, should not on the present listing of shelters.

The college district is at the moment searching for a web site to construct a brand new elementary faculty south of Palmer Ranch close to the State Street 681 hall, to alleviate enrollment stress at Ashton and Backyard elementary faculties, Lempe mentioned.

However there’s no assure that faculties could be hardened to served as a possible hurricane shelter.

Holic factors to current conversations with Capt. Jamie Bell of the Salvation Military and an e mail from Howard van Nostrand, commander of American Legion NO-VEL Submit 159, as encouraging beginning factors to contemplate various shelters.

Van Nostrand mentioned the American Legion, an 11,000-square-foot construction that has a capability of 200 folks, a big kitchen, which is powered by gasoline, is a pleasant constructing but it surely has by no means been hurricane-rated.

“It’s a reasonably large place; I’m certain we may get no less than 100 and a few folks in right here, simply,” van Nostrand mentioned, including that it could want a again-up generator to ensure energy, within the occasion of an outage. “It’s out there, we must always no less than test it out and see if we will go that method or not.”

County Commissioner Charles Hines, in a post-Irma e mail to metropolis administration and emergency administration officers famous that the county wanted to evaluation options for shelters not just for Venice, however Laurel, Nokomis, South Venice and Englewood as properly.

“It is very important see if there some holes in our shelter protection within the South County space and that is the time to do this, not throughout a pending storm occasion,” Hines wrote, then later added, “This evaluation is well timed, because the College Board begins enhancements to Venice Center, ought to that location show to be a very good web site to serve this half of our neighborhood.”

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Irma response highlights lack of Venice shelter options - Sarasota Herald-Tribune