The shelter at St. Petersburg High feels like home to Carla Gamble.
With the heads-up from a community policeman, she was the first to arrive Saturday when the school was opened to accommodate a new wave of evacuees from Hurricane Irma. Her neon green wristband was marked with a 1.
That policeman was there, and as residents trickled in, Gamble, 49, recognized familiar faces: other community police officers, former classmates, co-workers from old jobs and other homeless folks from Williams Park, where she’s currently been staying.
“I broke a record coming through the door,” she said. “And I broke a record with politeness.”
Settled in a prime spot facing the WiFi password printed on the wall, she’s also made new friends. She shares chocolate chip and marshmallow Rice Krispy treats, and another homeless man gave her a spare heather gray blanket.
“So far it’s been nice here,” Gamble said. “This has been laid back, more my pace.”
She has a copy of Elle Magazine to keep her busy, and her Holy Bible to keep her sane.
And she prays. She prays that her storage unit doesn’t flood, and she prays that her mail in her P.O. Box is safe.
She is anxious for the storm to pass, but knows she may have to stay. Hurricane Jose is just days out.
“Hopefully,” she said. “They’ll let me stay here.”
-- COLLEEN WRIGHT, Times Staff Writer
As Irma's hurricane-force winds started to whip the Florida Keys, the storm stayed at a weakened 120 mph and took slow aim at Florida.
The National Hurricane Center says the storm's forward motion fell to 6 mph as the storm stuttered off the coast of Cuba.
As of 11 p.m., Irma was located about 30 miles north-northeast of Varadero, Cuba, and 90 miles southeast of Key West, moving northwest at 6 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph with higher gusts.
A storm surge warning has been extended westward from the Suwannee River to the Ochlockonee River.
The storm is forecast to strengthen as it moves away from Cuba and into open water toward Florida.
More than 17,000 people now fill Hillsborough County shelters, emergency officials announced Saturday night. The number nearly doubled in less than eight hours.
Twenty-nine shelters still have room for more residents.
The only remaining special needs shelter with capacity for new evacuees is The Regent on Watson Road in Riverview.
Families with pets can bring their animals to Bartels Middle School on Imperial Oak Boulevard or Sgt. Paul Smith Middle School on Citrus Pointe Drive.
To find a shelter, visit HCFLGov.net/StaySafe
-- LANGSTON TAYLOR, Times Staff Writer
More than 170,000 homes and businesses in Florida have lost power and the center of Irma is about 90 miles southeast of Key West.
Florida Power and Light said on its website that more than half of those outages were in the Miami-Dade area, where about 600,000 people have been ordered to evacuate.
The company has said it expects millions of people to lose power, with some areas experiences prolonged outages.
The company said it has assembled the largest pre-storm workforce in U.S. history, with more than 16,000 people ready to respond.
-- Associated Press