SEBRING — If the power goes out, head down to Sandy’s Circle Café.
“We’re going to give food away,” said Sandy Jones.
“We don’t want it to spoil,” said her partner, Cy Barrett.
“We’re going to cook it on our smokers,” said Jones, who has been in business for 17 years.
So free hamburgers, hot dogs, anything that would go bad before power is restored in downtown Sebring. As this story was being written Saturday morning, no one knew when that would be, or even if Hurricane Irma would still be a Category 4 hurricane when she passes through Sebring.
Tropical storm force winds were expected to impact Highlands County at 4 a.m. Sunday. Hurricane force winds were expected to hit at 1 p.m.
Primary shelters opened at 8 a.m. Saturday. Secondary shelters, which do not have generator capabilities, were to open at 10 a.m. Evacuees were reminded to bring their own food and water.
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Highlands County is ready, though. Houses after 2001 were designed and built to state standards after Hurricane Andrew caused such dismaying damage in 1992.
In 1974, municipalities and counties followed one of four model codes, said Building Official Eric Longshore. In 2001, the state instituted one code.
“That was the big jump,” Longshore said. Roofs had to be better attached to houses, doors had withstand 110 mile per hour winds.
In this case, newer houses are better than older houses, Longshore said.
After the four hurricanes that hit Highlands County in 2004-05, public buildings were hardened. “Construction in this county was done right,” Longshore said. “We’re in good shape.”
Longshore had a tip for those who didn’t board up doors and windows — penetration.
If Irma’s 130 mph winds do get into the house through a broken window on the south side of the house, it could pressurize and explode the structure. “It’ll blow up like a balloon,” Longshore said.
So open a window on the north side.
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One fear is that Hurricane Irma could devastate Florida agriculture. Florida accounts for 10 percent of American land dedicated to fresh fruits and vegetables, Bloomberg reported.
Hurricane Irma could wreak havoc on Florida farmlands, and that’s $1.2 billion worth fresh tomatoes, oranges, green beans, cucumbers, squash and sugar cane.
In Highlands County, it’s citrus and livestock. A few varieties of oranges will be ready to pick in October, if they’re still on the tree.
Orange juice futures in New York were trading near their highest level since May, while the benchmark contract for U.S. sugar rose on Wednesday to the highest level since July. If Irma had tracked further north and moved inland through Georgia or the Carolinas, corn, soybeans, cotton and peanut harvests in that region would have been damaged.
How do ranchers protect their cattle during a hurricane? They can’t, said Cherie Dorothy of Sebring. Her SUV was down to half a tank on Friday morning, so she waited in a line of vehicles 30 deep at Circle K in South Sebring.
She’ll write her phone number on each horse’s shoulder with an orange marker that won’t wash off in the rain. “I’m going to write my ZIP code on their butts,” Dorothy said.
Leaving livestock to their own devices is better than penning them into barns that might blow down. “They’ll turn their butts to the wind,” Dorothy said. “Or they’ll lie down.”
On Friday morning, the situation was fluid at Inn on the Lakes. Most of the rooms were full, but Irma’s expected path had shifted the eye from Miami to Highlands County. And the eye was tracking further west to Tampa.
A few guests had checked out and were moving further north, said Innkeeper Phil Hatfield, so five rooms were temporarily available. No different in that respect than a golf weekend.
“I wish it was a golf weekend,” Hatfield said. Instead, workers were boarding windows and moving tables and chairs indoors and strapping down what couldn’t be moved.
As for Chicane’s, the Hatfields had laid in enough food and drinks to feed the guests, and the restaurant has enough generator power to keep freezers freezing and refrigerators cold, but that may not matter if there’s no electricity in the hotel.
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Based on recent forecasts, the U.S. Army Corps reviewed how the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike will be impacted, the Associated Press reported. Gov. Scott spoke to Col. Jason Kirk with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They believe the wind may push water over the dike.
That shouldn’t affect Highlands County, and the Corps has assured the governor the structural integrity of the dike will not be compromised, but Scott ordered voluntary evacuations beginning Friday in cities surrounding the southern half of Lake Okeechobee from Lake Port to Canal Point in Glades, Hendry and Palm Beach counties.
That includes Belle Glade, Canal Point, Clewiston, Lake Harbor, Moore Haven, Pahokee and South Bay.
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Also, the Panama News-Herald reported at 11 p.m. Friday that the Florida National Guard has coordinated with the Illinois National Guard to use aircraft to help move Meals Ready to Eat from Cecil Field to Avon Park.
The New Jersey National Guard and approximately 130 soldiers and more than 50 vehicles were to provide transportation assets for movement of troops, supplies and equipment to aid mobilization efforts during Hurricane Irma operations.
The Ohio National Guard and Pennsylvania National Guard to have teams standing by for Hurricane Irma support.