Hurricane Ian hits Florida as schools act as shelters: ‘Ready to accept anyone with open arms,’ says teacher

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As Hurricane Ian hits Florida, school buildings have been cleared and designated as shelters for evacuees and community members seeking safety.

Educators and school staff in many counties rallied as the storm, first reported as a Category 4, made landfall on Wednesday and left more than a million Floridians without power.

“We’re all working around the clock … to make sure everything runs smoothly alongside the Tampa Police Department,” said De’Quan Wilson, a fourth-grade teacher in Hillsborough County, where some schools have become schools. storm shelters.

LIVE UPDATES: HURRICANE IAN LANDS IN SOUTHWEST FLORIDA, MORE THAN A MILLION WITHOUT POWER

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had said Hurricane Ian could be a Category 5 storm by the time it hit the Sunshine State.

De’Quan Wilson, a fourth-grade teacher at Lockhart Elementary Magnet School in Tampa, Fla., shared this image of a packed classroom before Hurricane Ian landed.
(De’Quan Wilson)

“And we understand that it’s not just a 48-hour ordeal,” the governor also said at a press conference. “It’s going to be something that’s going to be there for days, weeks and months. And, unfortunately, in some circumstances, even years,” he added.

Before Ian landed on Wednesday, just south of Tampa, some 45 classrooms were packed at Lockhart Elementary Magnet School in Tampa, where Wilson teaches, to house evacuees.

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“Looks like we’re leaving for the summer [vacation]”Wilson told Fox News Digital of the empty classrooms.

This image of a classroom inside Lockhart Elementary Magnet School in Tampa, Florida shows students' chairs piled high as the school prepares to house Floridians amid the arrival of the Hurricane Ian.

This image of a classroom inside Lockhart Elementary Magnet School in Tampa, Florida shows students’ chairs piled high as the school prepares to house Floridians amid the arrival of the Hurricane Ian.
(De’Quan Wilson)

Families will sleep in designated areas of the school building and eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in the cafeteria, according to Wilson.

About 150 people are already accommodated on site at the school and Wilson said they were not yet at maximum capacity.

“We are ready to accept anyone with open arms,” ​​he said.

A teacher has shared a welcome note and instructions on her whiteboard for Florida families evacuating their homes due to Hurricane Ian.

A teacher has shared a welcome note and instructions on her whiteboard for Florida families evacuating their homes due to Hurricane Ian.
(De’Quan Wilson)

“We are constantly walking around watching the shelter, making sure [if] the evacuees need anything, that they’re okay – that they’re comfortable.”

“It can be a very scary time, so we’re making sure people feel safe,” Wilson added.

There are two types of shelters in Florida: shelters for the general population and shelters for people with special needs, according to flordiadisaster.org.

A woman holds her cat at a school that has been turned into a pet-friendly storm shelter in Seminole County, Florida.

A woman holds her cat at a school that has been turned into a pet-friendly storm shelter in Seminole County, Florida.
(Seminole County Government)

“It is important to note that not all people with disabilities are eligible for evacuation to a special needs shelter,” the organization wrote on its website.

“The best place to shelter for every Floridian is outside the evacuation zone, in a safe and secure structure, with family and friends.”

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Some facilities are also designated as pet-friendly.

Fox News Digital has learned of several schools turned into shelters that allow pets, including two out of four schools in Osceola County.

Empty pet cages are pictured just before Hurricane Ian hit the state of Florida this week.

Empty pet cages are pictured just before Hurricane Ian hit the state of Florida this week.
(Seminole County Government)

“Osceola County Emergency Management, in partnership with Osceola Animal Services, the American Red Cross, and the Osceola County School District, provides pet-friendly shelters,” the county announced in the emergency management section of its site. website.

“Only certain shelters are designated as ‘pets’.”

“A big congratulations to all our staff who [are] working through the hurricane and managing schools being used as shelters,” Osceola Schools, located in central Florida, tweeted alongside a photo of staff posing in safety vests at Harmony High School in St. Cloud .

Volunteers walk through a school that is now a storm shelter this week in Seminole County, Florida.

Volunteers walk through a school that is now a storm shelter this week in Seminole County, Florida.
(Seminole County Government)

A sign is pictured outside a shelter in Seminole County Florida before Hurricane Ian hit the state.

A sign is pictured outside a shelter in Seminole County Florida before Hurricane Ian hit the state.
(Seminole County Government)

A representative from Osceola Schools told Fox News Digital that cafeterias and gymnasiums are the spaces primarily used as shelters.

The county noted that “deputies will protect shelters” and that sex offenders will have shelter in a separate location from all residents of the Osceola County Courthouse.

“It can be a very scary time, so we’re making sure people feel safe.”

— De’Quan Wilson, volunteer educator at his school

Seminole County Public Schools (SCPS), located in central Florida, provides shelter for the general population at five schools, two of which are pet-friendly.

There are two other schools open to people with special needs – and one of these schools accepts pets.

“Seminole County Public Schools takes their responsibility to work with our community partners to provide shelter for our citizens very seriously,” SCPS Superintendent Serita Beamon told Fox News Digital in an emailed statement.

“Our five general population shelters and three special needs shelters are run by principals, teachers and staff and provide shelter guests with a safe haven from the elements,” she added.

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“We are committed to keeping all Seminole County residents safe and look forward to supporting our students, families, staff, and community before, during, and after Hurricane Ian hits,” Beamon also said. .

A public school in Seminole County, Florida is preparing to accommodate more evacuees due to Hurricane Ian.

A public school in Seminole County, Florida is preparing to accommodate more evacuees due to Hurricane Ian.
(Seminole County Government)

The Seminole County government website advises evacuees to bring the following items to shelters:

Bedding: cot/blanket/pillow (cots are not provided in shelters for the general population)

Personal medication

Dietary needs or special foods

Comfort/entertainment items

Photo ID

Additional clothes

Volunteers pose at a public school in Seminole County before Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida.

Volunteers pose at a public school in Seminole County before Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida.
(Seminole County Government)

Empty hallways are seen at a school in Seminole County, Florida ahead of Hurricane Ian's landfall.

Empty hallways are seen at a school in Seminole County, Florida ahead of Hurricane Ian’s landfall.
(Seminole County Government)

What will be provided at the shelter:

Breakfast lunch dinner

Accommodation of personal space measuring 21 square feet (7 feet x 3 feet)

Presence of law enforcement

Additionally, shelters specify that weapons, firearms, alcohol, and drugs are not permitted in county shelters.

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Osceola County reminds people that anyone staying at the Special Needs Shelter should bring “medicines and other life-saving supplies, including oxygen or other electrical medical devices.”

Wilson said his school has mattresses for the elderly and for people with disabilities.

De'Quan Wilson photographed an empty classroom in Tampa - a room he usually teaches in - before evacuees arrived amid Hurricane Ian.

De’Quan Wilson photographed an empty classroom in Tampa – a room he usually teaches in – before evacuees arrived amid Hurricane Ian.
(De’Quan Wilson)

Wilson said he and his colleagues fielded calls at the elementary school reception as Floridians inquired about the availability of shelter.

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He and other Lockhart employees, Wilson pointed out, will continue to greet evacuees as employees tend to meals, coffee stations and custodial duties while police secure the building.

A school hallway is decorated with student handprints before Hurricane Ian landed in Florida.

A school hallway is decorated with student handprints before Hurricane Ian landed in Florida.
(Government of the County of Seminole)

“When the students come back on Monday, hopefully they’re back to some sort of normalcy,” Wilson said.

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