After missing his 10 a.m. flight to Alabama, Daryl Burgess, 37, waited with his daughters, 13-year-old Alysa and 4-year-old Coco Brown, in front of the Southwest ticket counter.
SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay are planning to close by 5 p.m. Saturday, and will be closed on Sunday and Monday, Sept. 11. Aquatica Orlando and Adventure Island will be closed Saturday through Monday. Discovery Cove will be closed on Sunday and Monday.
The Epicurean Hotel, a hip boutique hotel in South Tampa with 137 rooms is sold out for the weekend said Joe Collier with Mainsail Lodging, the hotel’s parent company.
“If we had a 1,000 rooms we probably could have filled them,” Collier said Friday morning, adding that most of the hotel’s guests are from South Florida, though there are a few local residents, too. “People are bailing out of South Florida and the Keys and need somewhere to stay. The tide of the population is pushing up the state. Locals who are afraid of flooding and such have taken refuge here.”
Colliers said hotel staff is hunkering down and preparing to ride out the storm through the weekend and into next week.
“Everyone is safe. No one is worried about safety here. If you have to leave, you might as well stay at a refuge attached to a wine store with a great steakhouse across the street.”
With hundreds of parking meters and timed spaces in St. Petersburg, the city suspended parking enforcement — not issuing citations — at 5 p.m. Thursday. The suspension will last until the storm passes or until further notice, mayoral spokesman Ben Kirby says.
By closing time Thursday evening, the Palm Pavilion on Clearwater Beach locked its doors and sent employees home with armfuls of food from the kitchen.
Clearwater Police are allowing beach employees over the Memorial Causeway Bridge during evacuations, but because customers would not be given access, owner Hoyt Hamilton decided to close the restaurant for the weekend.
"It's like my dad always said. When we lose business to weather, there not a darn thing you can do about it," said Hamilton, also Clearwater Vice Mayor.
The Pavilion is a 92-year-old wooden structure that sits right on the sand at an access to the public beach. It has hurricane proof windows and slats in the wood floors that have seen water rise up through it before.
"That old girl has been through a lot in 92 years," Hamilton said. "This isn't our first rodeo."
Hamilton said many beach businesses are following suit and shutting doors by Friday morning because of the limited access to the beach for the public beginning at 10 a.m.
He hopes to open by Tuesday, depending on Hurricane Irma's wrath.
— Tracey McManus, Times staff writer
Portions of the Tampa Bay area are now under a hurricane watch, and Floridians remained focused Friday morning on just how soon Hurricane Irma would make the turn north that will dictate just how devastating one of the strongest storms ever to tear through the Atlantic will be on the peninsula.
“It’s not a question of if Florida is going to be impacted; It’s a question of how bad Florida is going to be impacted,” Florida Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long said during a news conference Friday morning.
Long said 8,000 government workers have been deployed: some working to stabilize the islands the once Category 5 hurricane already ripped through, others preparing to help Florida and the other southern states that could feel Irma’s wrath.
Irma weakened to a Category 4 on Friday, but is still immensely powerful as it batters the Caribbean on its path closing in on Florida.
A hurricane watch has been extended north along the west coast to the Anclote River, and on the east coasat to the Flagler/Volusia County Line.
The latest projections put Irma making landfall in South Florida over the weekend. Long reminded Floridians that there’s still time to prepare, get supplies or evacuate. He expects power outages to last days — if not longer — across the state. The storm’s width is as big as all of Florida.
“I can guarantee you no one in Florida has experienced what’s about to hit South Florida,” Long said.
Hurricane Irma continues to be a strong Category 4 hurricane with winds at 150 mph. It is located 80 miles northeast of Lucrecia, Cuba, and about 450 miles southeast of Miami and is moving west-northwest at 14 mph.