Orange County leaders aren’t expecting Hurricane Isaias to pack much of a punch here, but say they’re ready if it does.
Orange is among 18 counties, including Brevard, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia, covered by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ state-of-emergency order issued Friday after hurricane projections showed the Category 1 storm tracking toward the east coast.
A hurricane watch was in effect for neighboring coastal counties.
“We’re optimistic and hopeful with this storm, based on the current track, that our impact in Orange County won’t be as bad as we’ve seen in some previous years,” said Danny Banks, deputy county administrator and public safety director.
Banks said county crews worked to clear drainage systems ahead of Isaias’ arrival, forecast for Sunday morning.
Mayor Jerry Demings said he believes the county is well prepared for whatever the storm may bring amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He said the county could begin to feel higher winds and rain late Saturday and early Sunday.
The timeline, as usual, could change as the storm moves along the coast.
If residents of coastal counties evacuate, hotels in Orange County can take them in, the mayor said.
About 84% of hotels are open and only about 32% of rooms are occupied, Demings said, quoting figures he attributed to Visit Orlando, the tax-funded tourism-marketing agency.
Many of the properties closed and furloughed employees when Disney, Universal, SeaWorld and other attractions closed because of COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders aimed at slowing the spread of the virus..
Public Works crews have cleared debris from ditches, canals and storm-water drains and double-checked the condition of pump stations which struggled to keep up with heavy rains during Hurricane Irma in Sept. 2017, flooding the Orlo Vista community.
Crews fished tires, grocery carts and logs from the system, Public Works Director Joe Kunkel said.
The mayor also took note of the hurricane’s impact in the Caribbean.
“I have to say our hearts go out to those who live on the island of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic,” the mayor said. “The storm has left thousands without power in those areas. Puerto Rico certainly has been hit hard in the last few years.”
Many Orange County residents are recent transplants from Caribbean islands which were battered in September 2017 by Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm which killed nearly 3,000 people in Puerto Rico and caused an estimated $91 billion in damage.
Many have family and friends on the islands.
“We’re praying for them as they go through it,” Demings said.
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