While Florida braced for Hermine, expected to be its first hurricane landfall in over a decade, Jacksonville officials weren’t taking any chances Thursday.
With the city under a state of emergency, authorities planned to drastically scale back services in an effort to keep residents and city employees out of harm’s way. Mayor Lenny Curry said that declaration would give the city access to whatever resources they needed to handle the storm’s fallout.
The potential threat of severe weather — heavy rainfall, strong winds, storm surges, flooding, and isolated tornadoes — forced the cancellation of everything from schools to government business to a Kenny G concert at the Florida Theatre.
Throughout the day, city officials issued regular updates as they closely monitored the progress and path of Hermine, which strengthened into a hurricane Thursday afternoon, as they prepared for the worst.
“Weather is unpredictable,” the mayor said at a news briefing held at the city’s emergency operations center. “… We need to take it seriously, all of us, and that is what we here at EOC are doing, that’s what all the agencies are doing and that is what I am asking the people of Jacksonville to do.”
Residents statewide were on high alert as the storm bore down on the Big Bend area of the state’s Gulf Coast.
At a noon news conference in Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott warned the public not to take the storm lightly, repeatedly calling it “life-threatening.”
The governor said the main goal is to keep residents safe. He warned that rescuers will not be able to help to people in need while the storm is passing through and encouraged people to avoid taking risks like driving through standing water, touching power lines or waiting to seek shelter.
“We can rebuild homes; we can rebuild a property. We cannot rebuild a life,” Scott said.
The governor said 6,000 National Guard troops are standing by and ready to be mobilized to help if needed.
On the First Coast, Jacksonville and the surrounding area were expected to remain under a tropical storm warning and a flood watch through Friday.
Curry said public works crews are standing by at area fire stations to “cut and toss” fallen trees and other debris produced by the storm.
Ahead of the storm, city crews were focused on making sure drainage systems work and the removal of any potential blockages, said public works director John Pappas.
JEA workers were prepared to handle any downed power lines, according to managing director Paul McElroy, who urged residents to charge their mobile devices so they can access JEA.com to report any outages and stay updated should they lose power.
“Tomorrow, we will be in restoration,” McElroy said.
The possibility of closing three of Jacksonville’s seven bridges — the Dames Point, Hart and Mathews bridges — was also under consideration if sustained winds reached 40 mph, Leonard Propper, assistant chief of special events for the Sheriff’s Office, told reporters at an evening news briefing. “Those typically, historically catch the threshold before anything else does,” he said.
In light of the storm, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority planned to scale back services by shifting to weekend levels, meaning trolleys in Jacksonville Beach and the Riverside-Avondale neighborhood would be shut down, said spokeswoman Leigh Ann Rassler. She said Connexion, JTA’s paratransit service for those with disabilities, would only be available if absolutely necessary.
Times-Union reporter Dan Scanlan contributed to this report.