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Predicting Hurricane Ian's impact on Jacksonville will be a "major flood event," Mayor Lenny Curry and city leaders declared a state of emergency for Duval County.
That means city offices close at noon Wednesday, while the Legends Center at 5130 Soutel Drive opens at 5 p.m. as the city's first emergency shelter.
Statewide, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered mandatory evacuations for several counties: Charlotte, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota.
St. Johns County has also issued an evacuation order to go into effect Wednesday at 6 a.m. The order covers residents in evacuation zones A and B, including the entire city of St. Augustine. The order also includes residents in evacuation zone F in the portion of the county south of County Road 214.
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Clay County also ordered evacuations as of noon Wednesday. These include zones A along the river and Doctor's Lake, plus B blocks from the water and C along Black Creek.
"We are already at astronomical tides," County Manager John Ward said. "... We are about a foot and a half higher than the river normally runs, so add about 2 to 4 feet to that in this storm surge."
"If you are in an evacuation zone, please evacuate," Sheriff Michelle Cook added. "Do not make a bad decision and put yourself in danger, which causes us to send first responders out and out them in danger to recue you."
Some evacuations also are recommended in Putnam County.
"If you haven't already, prepare for the possibility of a major flooding event," Curry said. "Currently the biggest threat to our area is excessive rainfall, moderate winds and tornadoes, the biggest impact starting late Wednesday, continuing Thursday and into Friday morning."
Duval County Schools Superintendent Diana Greene said classes will be conducted as normal Wednesday, which was already an early release day. But students will be sent home 45 minutes earlier, she said. Schools and district offices close Thursday and Friday, with sports activities also canceled until Monday.
In Clay, Putnam and St. Johns County public schools will close Wednesday through Friday. Nassau County's public schools will close Thursday and Friday.
Hurricane Ian update
The National Weather Service now predicts tropical storm force winds of 40 to 50 mph and gusts to 75 mph starting early Thursday morning until Friday night.
As Ian became a Category 3 hurricane early Tuesday, the governor announced that the Florida Division of Emergency Management activated its State Assistance Information Line at (800) 342-3557 (SAIL) to offer Floridians up-to-date information on the hurricane.
The Weather Service already issued a storm surge and tropical storm watch for Jacksonville, including Arlington, Oceanway, the Talleyrand area and the Beaches communities as the wind threat has increased.
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A flood watch is in effect, with peak rainfall amounts of 8 to 12 inches possible and higher amounts in some areas. Some areas may face a "life-threatening storm surge" with the potential for 2 to 4 feet above ground beginning Wednesday afternoon.
Emergency crews ready
The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said it will stage an Urban Search and Rescue Team at downtown's Prime Osborn Convention Center on Water Street. Designed to handle storm-related rescues, it will also have a special boat that can handle fast-moving water, Chief Keith Powers said.
As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, five emergency road access teams deployed across the city to help those "in the most need," Powers said.
"It will consist of members of JSO, JEA and contractors with heavy equipment to clear our roads as necessary," Powers said.
The JEA said its 2,000-plus employees are on standby to handle outages if needed with mutual aid crews coming in from Texas, New England and Alabama, and other contractors also ready to help. City Public Works crews have been clearing ditches in preparation for storms this hurricane season, Curry said.
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The city's bridges will be closed by the Sheriff's Office if there are sustained winds of 40 mph or more, Undersheriff Nick Burgos said. Buses will cease running if there are sustained winds of over 35 mph, the JTA said.
Jacksonville International Airport passengers need to check the flight status with their airline for the most up-to-date information. The airport's website at flyjacksonville.com/Home.aspx also offers flight and airport status information.
And while garbage and recycling collection will operate on a normal schedule on Wednesday, it will be suspended Thursday and Friday, with makeup days to be announced, city officials said.
The city website posts an updated hurricane evacuation zone map with the ability to search by address. Evacuation zones are based on multiple factors, such as wave action, rainfall and areas known to flood, based on a lettering system.
The JaxReady.com mobile app automatically serves up information based on the cellphone's current GPS location and also has an address search feature. The app also includes text message alerts for emergency preparedness and evacuation.
firstname.lastname@example.org, (904) 359-4549
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Hurricane Ian: Jacksonville leaders declare state of emergency