Hurricane prep

Marilyn and Dave Whiting, 81, decided to pack a few things, leave their home in the Schalamar retirement community off U.S. 92 and head to Tenoroc High School’s hurricane shelter Tuesday afternoon ahead of Hurricane Ian’s eye’s expected Thursday morning landfall.

“Dave has a lot of medical problems and he doesn’t get around very well and we really don’t have a lot of family close by to watch out for us,” Marilyn Whiting said.  “We came here about three or four years ago.  It was nice – very nice.  We didn’t get a lot of sleep, but at least we stayed alive.”

With the outer edges of the storm’s clouds swirling overhead, the Whitings were one of dozens of families who went to 17 Polk County public schools on Tuesday when they opened as hurricane shelters.

Talley Miller, right, helps the Whitings take things into the hurricane shelter at Tenoroc High | Kimberly C. Moore | LkldNow

Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid said during an emergency meeting of the School Board this morning that the shelters could serve almost 30,000 people, including at least 200 people with medical needs. 

The school district and Citrus Connection worked together to transport those with significant medical issues to special needs shelters – McKeel Central Academy in downtown Lakeland and Ridge Community High School in Davenport. The Florida Department of Health Specialty Care Unit at 1255 Brice Blvd. in Bartow is also open.

Heid said he had wanted to keep schools open Tuesday, but the state Emergency Operations Center and the National Weather Service asked if they could open shelters today after ordering nearly 400,000 coastal residents to evacuate.

Around Lakeland, people were preparing for what is expected to be a category 4 storm when it slams into the Gulf coast; it is expected to hit near Englewood Thursday morning, with the eye moving northeast and over Polk County later in the day, according to today’s 5 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center . The storm is also expected to linger, dumping a lot of rain on an already-saturated area.

An excavation machine along the Polk Parkway lowered its dragline cage to the ground. Lights on tall poles along the parkway and I-4 were also lowered. People are bringing in plants, outdoor furniture, and anything that could become a projectile in hurricane-force winds.

Highway lights have been lowered in anticipation of Hurricane Ian | Kimberly C. Moore | LkldNow

Polk County Emergency Management’s website said people should take into account their home’s or apartment’s elevation level if they plan to shelter there.

“If we experience a storm that may put a significant storm surge in your home, you need to look at the other options,” the website states. “Also, people in manufactured and mobile homes cannot use this option. Mobile homes and manufactured homes are not built to withstand the high winds associated with tropical storms and hurricanes.

If you’re evacuating to a friend’s home or a hotel, make sure it can withstand a storm or flooding.

“You need to make sure that where you are going is safe,” it states. “It defeats the purpose of evacuating if you go to an unsafe place.”

Check the latest updates on hurricane-related closures and services.

Schools are constructed with hurricane shelters in mind. Heid said their staff was bringing in food supplies and toiletries to the 17 shelters.

“Facility staff are delivering toiletries and all the things that you that most people don’t realize has to take place,” Heid said. “You put 2,000 people in a gymnasium, you’re gonna have to have custodial supplies.”

Emergency management officials also urge people to prepare a seven-day survival kit for during and after a disaster.

“You should anticipate no water, electrical power, or utilities for that period of time,” officials warned.

Storm clouds from Hurricane Ian began arriving Tuesday afternoon | Kimberly C. Moore | LkldNow

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd urged people to follow orders from officials and do what they say.

“This is a very dangerous storm. If they tell you to evacuate, evacuate,” Judd said. “By now you should’ve already had your hurricane supplies together — if not, go out and get them. I want to emphasize, you can’t call us in the middle of the storm if you’re scared and think we’re going to come get you.  If you don’t evacuate, you’re going to have to ride it out on your own until the storm is over.” 

The five Lakeland shelter locations are:

  • Sleepy Hill Elementary School, 2285 Sleepy Hill Road
  • R. Bruce Wagner Elementary School, 5500 Yates Road
  • George Jenkins High School, 6000 Lakeland Highlands Road
  • Highlands Grove Elementary, 4510 Lakeland Highlands Road
  • Kathleen High School, 1100 Red Devil Way

Other Polk shelter locations are:

  • Horizons Elementary School, 1700 Forest Lake Drive, Davenport
  • Chain Of Lakes Elementary School. 7001 Hwy 653, Winter Haven
  • Mulberry Middle School, 500 SE Martin Luther King Jr Ave., Mulberry
  • Spessard Holland Elementary, 2342 E.F. Griffin Road, Bartow
  • Auburndale High School, 1 Bloodhound Trail, Auburndale
  • Citrus Ridge Academy, 1775 Sand Mine Road, Davenport
  • Lake Marion Creek Middle School, 3055 Lake Marion Creek Drive, Poinciana
  • Winter Haven High School, 600 6th St. SE, Winter Haven

Before going, check shelter policies here.

Special needs shelters:

  • McKeel Academy, 1810 W. Parker St., Lakeland
  • Florida Department of Health Specialty Care Unit, 1255 Brice Blvd., Bartow
  • Ridge Community High School, 500 Orchid Drive, Davenport

Pet-friendly shelters:

  • Tenoroc High School, 4905 Saddle Creek Road, Lakeland
  • Lake Region High School. 1995 Thunder Road, Eagle Lake
  • Haines City High School. 2800 Hornet Drive, Haines City

Pet owners must bring shot records for their pets, an airline-approved carrying case or crate and pet food.

Florida said people should pack:

  • A two-week supply of medication
  • A list of the style, serial number, and manufacturer information of required medical devices
  • Flashlights and batteries
  • A weather radio
  • Cash
  • Cellphone chargers
  • Activities for children
  • A written list of important phone numbers (your cellphone battery might die)
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Nonperishable food
  • Water – 1 gallon per person per day
  • Manual can opener
  • Important documents like insurance cards, medical records, banking information, social security cards, birth/marriage certificates, vaccination records for pets, a copy of your will

Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native.  She can be reached at or 863-272-9250.

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at or 863-272-9250.

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