Orlando Hunkers Down as Hurricane Dorian Stalls Over Bahamas

As Dorian parked above the Bahamas like an idling steamroller — crushing the islands with high winds and 18-foot storm surge — gloomy skies blanketed Orlando on a subdued Labor Day, while prep continued for the storm.

by Monivette Cordeiro, Jeff Weiner and Stephen Hudak, Orlando Sentinel / September 3, 2019
A Highland Beach police officer sits in his vehicle to check IDs of people in cars as he only allows residents to enter the Highland Beach area as Hurricane Dorian continues to make its way toward the Florida coast on Sept. 2, 2019, in Highland Beach, Fla. TNS

(TNS) — Randy Smith still needed to buy supplies and make preparations for Hurricane Dorian, but there was one thing he’d taken care of by Monday night: tracking the storm with a cold one in hand at Wally’s Liquors.

Since Hurricane Charley ravaged Central Florida in 2004, Smith, 53, said he’d made it a tradition to stop by the Mills Avenue spot with friends to get a drink at the horseshoe bar with the lewd wallpaper and watch the weather on TV.

“It’s pretty much the safest place in town,” Smith said. “I told my friends we had to make sure we came over to Wally’s today before the storm. … You know what? We might have to come back tomorrow.”

As Hurricane Dorian parked above the Bahamas like an idling steamroller — crushing the islands with ferocious winds and storm surge as high as 18 feet — gloomy skies blanketed Orlando on a subdued Labor Day, while preparations continued for the storm’s approach.

Forecasters were increasingly confident that Central Florida would avoid a direct hit, with models showing Dorian likely to remain offshore as it moves along the east coast through Wednesday, with powerful gusts expected in the Orlando area by Tuesday afternoon.

But state, local and federal agencies weren’t taking any chances.

School districts in Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Volusia and Lake counties all announced classes would not resume until Thursday at the earliest. First responders made preparations to depart for any disaster areas the storm leaves in its wake. Utilities companies amassed a small army of workers to restore power when the winds die down. Government offices closed, while shelters opened — and began to slowly fill.

Despite optimistic forecasts, officials pleaded for residents to treat Dorian as a grave threat. Jared Moskowitz, director of the state’s Division of Emergency Management, said the U.S. Department of Energy had estimated as many as 500,000 homes and businesses could be left without power.

“Do not turn your back on this storm,” said Keith Kotch, Orange County’s interim emergency manager. “We don’t want you to think we’re out of danger. We are not.”

As residents hunkered down in their homes, governments across Central Florida closed up shop until after Dorian passes — through Wednesday at least, in most places. Garbage, recycling and yard waste collection was also halted across the region.

Courts in Orange, Osceola, Lake, Seminole and Brevard will also be closed through Wednesday — don’t bother reporting for jury duty.

Disney was curtailing hours at its theme parks on Tuesday, and SeaWorld will be closed for the entire day. Universal Orlando said it planned to open as usual and monitor conditions, though the Volcano Bay water park will be closed.

Meanwhile, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings signed an executive order prohibiting price-gouging for gas, hotel rooms and other goods and services, banning businesses from raising their rates above the “normal retail price” while the order is in effect.

In Osceola County, officials enacted a curfew from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., to begin Tuesday night, as the megastorm is expected to make its pass along the coast. The county announced voluntary evacuations for mobile, manufactured and modular homes, as well as low-lying areas, as did Seminole County. Though Orange County did not declare voluntary evacuations, firefighters went door-to-door in mobile home communities, informing residents of where to find nearby shelters.

At Conway Circle, a community north of Orlando International Airport, residents of manufactured homes were deciding whether to stay with family, head to hotels — or ride out the storm.

Aubrie Garofalo, 30, Tom Yun, 32, and their 3-year-old daughter, Ellie, moved to the neighborhood from Rhode Island in July and were planning to follow their roommates’ emergency plan.

“I guess if … it’s looking like it’s going to get too bad, then it’s time to go to a hotel and not stay in the house, but they said they usually never have to,” Garofalo said. “They said it always seems like it will be worse than it is here.”

Meanwhile, utilities were dramatically ramping up staffing.

Florida Power & Light Co. said it had assembled 17,000 workers, including out-of-state contractors. The Orlando Utilities Commission brought several hundred workers from Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and Massachusetts under mutual aid agreements. Duke Energy had 300 trucks and 700 workers from Ohio and Kentucky staged in Davenport, and another 700 workers from the Midwest were waiting in The Villages, spokeswoman Sally Thelen said. Kissimmee Utility Authority spokesman Chris Gent said KUA has brought in crews from New Jersey and planned to bring in more line workers Monday from Minnesota.

“We will ride out the storm together and get on the field as soon as the winds die down,” OUC spokesman Tim Trudell said. “We have on hand probably four times our normal resources.”

Even with the storm’s winds likely a day away, residents began to trickle into local shelters

By noon Monday, over 150 Orange County residents had moved into 11 county shelters, which included two special-needs shelters. Lake County began opening its shelters at noon and soon had residents filing in, fearful of Dorian’s size and ferocity even as models began to shift its predicted course away from inland areas.

“It’s iffy,” said Barbara Grigg, an 81-year-old retired university instructor and Sorrento resident, who was among the first to arrive at the emergency shelter at Round Lake Charter School. “I’d rather not push the iffy. … I’d just as soon not ride this one out.”

Added her husband, 86-year-old retired proofreader Anthony Grigg, “This thing is so huge we don’t trust it all. We can’t trust our house to hold together.”

Closer to the coast, a shelter at David Hinson Middle School in Daytona Beach was already at capacity by midday Monday. Volusia County also issued a 12-hour curfew — from 6 p.m. Tuesday through 6 a.m. Wednesday — as the storm’s approach was already evident, in the form of giant waves that crashed into the jetty at Lighthouse Point Park in Ponce Inlet.

Gov. Ron DeSantis urged Floridians to remain prepared and stay patient, paying attention to local alerts and evacuation orders, rather than succumb to “storm fatigue” due to Dorian’s glacial pace.

“This has been frustrating I know for a lot of people because it seems like we’ve been talking about this a long time, but we are in a situation where the storm is stalling very close to our coast,” DeSantis said Monday from the state Emergency Operations Center. “It is going to make a move, and the movement that it makes is going to have a lot of impacts on Floridians.”

Evacuation orders have been issued by most counties for coastal areas from Palm Beach County north to the Florida-Georgia border.

DeSantis said seven hospitals and 72 nursing homes and assisted living facilities had evacuated, with more expected as Dorian moves up the coast.

DeSantis suspended tolls on most major highways, including the Turnpike and Central Florida toll roads like State Roads 408, 429, 417 and 414 and 528. State officials will continue to monitor traffic patterns but saw “nothing out of the ordinary” as of Monday morning, DeSantis said.

Orlando International Airport announced it would halt commercial operations at 2 a.m. Tuesday. The airport didn’t say when flights would resume. The SunRail commuter train service was already suspended all week, as is Amtrak service.

In the downtown Orlando area, there was little evidence Monday of the lurking behemoth in the Atlantic. People walked their dogs around Lake Eola Park, while many stores remained open. In between downpours, shirtless boys played soccer in the street in College Park.

On Twitter, Mayor Buddy Dyer urged Orlando residents to help one another ready for the storm.

“As we conclude our preparations for Hurricane Dorian, let’s continue to show the community spirit that makes Orlando such a special place to live,” he said. “Check in on neighbors who might need assistance and see if they are ready.”

The Publix supermarket at Colonialtown was busy with last-minute shoppers, stocking up on Doritos and freshly replenished cases of bottle water. Water was also available at the Lucky’s Market in Colonial Landing, where large cases sat piled near the produce section, without prompting a frenzy.

Revelers packed the patio area at the Hammered Lamb pub on North Orange Avenue, just feet from the boarded up storefront windows of nearby businesses. Up the street, The Lucky Lure was also busy. Gerry Connolly, 63, and his wife and daughter played a game of jumbo Jenga with a fourth, invisible player: Hurricane Dorian.

The wind was picking up strength Monday afternoon, enough to wobble the red blocks perched on top of each other.

“Dorian could win,” 31-year-old Ashley Connolly said, as she carefully pulled out a block.

———

(Staff writers Gray Rohrer, Austin Fuller, Jerry Fallstrom and Dewayne Bevil contributed to this report.)

 

———

©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

—————

PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194):

Platforms & Programs