(TNS) - The devastating 2017 hurricane season was full of lessons for Lake County, Fla., officials, and one of the key lessons they learned is that you can't have too many storm shelters.
Lake Emergency Management Director Tom Carpenter this week called the 2017 season "hyperactive and catastrophic" and told the Lake County Commission that he has created six additional primary evacuation shelters for the 2018 season, bringing the total to 15.
The shelters are strategically located around Lake County to make sure residents have access to a shelter near them. Eight of the 15 accept pets and four will be equipped to take people with special medical needs.
The new shelters are at East Ridge High, East Ridge Middle, Eustis High, Leesburg High, Mount Dora High and Tavares High.
The others are Leesburg Elementary, Lost Lake Elementary, Round Lake Elementary, Umatilla Elementary, Villages Elementary, Astatula Elementary, Mascotte Elementary, Spring Creek Elementary and Treadway Elementary.
Shelters proved to be important in Lake County during Hurricane Irma. While Lake does not face tidal surge threats like coastal communities, it has a significant supply of mobile homes that are susceptible to storm damage, and it also has a large elderly population, some of whom live alone and are vulnerable.
Lake shelters also housed a number of coastal residents who fled inland.
In all, Lake County sheltered almost 5,000 people during the storm, including 264 with special needs.
Officials hope the current season is timid by comparison to 2017, which featured 17 named storms, including 10 hurricanes, six of which were classified as "major."
Of those, only Irma reached Lake County, but it created quite a mess when it blew through on Sept. 11 with 50-65 mph sustained winds and frequent gusts of 70-85.
More than 3,000 structures sustained at least some damage in the final tally, Carpenter said. Eighty-eight homes and two businesses here sustained major damage and 10 homes were destroyed.
Irma left $41 million in damage in its wake in Lake County and disrupted power to 77 percent of all homes, Carpenter said.
Carpenter said FEMA officials recently told Florida emergency managers that they will have to be more self-reliant this hurricane season and in the future.
FEMA was stretched thin responding to disasters last year. It was working approximately 600 disasters in all before Hurricane Harvey blasted Houston, Irma struck Florida and Maria devastated Puerto Rico. The agency also had to deal with wildfires out west that scorched thousands of acres around Los Angeles and Northern California.
Carpenter said FEMA Administrator Brock Long cautioned that, "his model would be federally supported, state managed and locally executed. His message to the locals is be prepared to take care of yourselves."
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