At the ready for Dorian response

About 1,500 utility bucket trucks stage on East County Road 470 near Florida’s Turnpike in Sumter County. Duke Energy expects to have about 3,000 trucks staged in the county to respond to Hurricane Dorian.

The Villages was poised to escape most of Dorian’s lashing today but stood ready to rush to the state’s aid as the Category 4 hurricane churned along the East Coast. “I think we should all hope and pray for the best, but we have to prepare that this could have major impacts on the state of Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said. More than 1,000 state law enforcement officers are on standby along with 4,434 members of the Florida National Guard. Locally, parts of Lake and Marion counties are being warned of possible tropical storm-force winds, while The Villages is hosting a massive army of 1,500 Duke Energy vehicles and up to 3,000 first-response workers on a 30-acre pasture for deployment around the state. Contractors worked for days installing limestone roads to prevent trucks from getting stuck in mud, said Gary Lester, The Villages vice president for community relations. “This is a big regional deal,” he said. “We’re helping them create quite the complex from which they can deal with whatever Dorian sends our way. It’s fortunate that the property is available and that we have considerable resources already on or near it so we can help Duke gear up fast.”

Workers are staying in hotels around the area awaiting the call, said Duke spokeswoman Heather Danenhower.

“Although Dorian’s path is uncertain, these crews are certain to be working 16-hour shifts for days,” she said.

‘Observe and Report’

While the utility waits for the storm to pass, members of the Sumter County Amateur Radio Emergency Services prepared to assist local and state officials in the event of any communications lapses.

The group’s primary mission is to provide communications between hospitals and emergency operations if the community loses landline or cellphone communications, said Ed Nance, who serves as Sumter’s ARES coordinator.

“We got several systems in place, including a statewide network, that we talk through,” said Nance, of the Village of Collier. “That’s where I’m mainly focused at the moment.”

The communications transmitted may include information such as the number of available hospital beds and supply needs, he said.

“During Hurricane Irma, there was a loss of some telephone systems and cell towers,” Nance said. “So they switched over to us for communications.”

Meanwhile, members of The Villages Amateur Radio lifestyle club will be monitoring their neighborhoods, said the club’s president, George Briggs.

“Our function is largely through negotiations with public safety and police departments to observe what’s going on with the storm in our areas such as fires or trees down,” said Briggs, of the Village of Pinellas. “After the storm, we’re encouraged to drive safely within our neighborhood to see if there is anything noticeable that we wouldn’t have seen outside our window. Our goal is to observe and report.”

Sandbagging service

Thousands of Sumter County residents took advantage of the free sandbags that two Sumter County business leaders made available.

Steve Munz, president and CEO of Galaxy Home Solutions, and Terry Yoder, chairman and CEO of the T&D Family of Companies, recruited volunteers to provide five sandbags to each Sumter County resident who requested them.

“We purchased 3,500 bags and gave away 3,500 bags,” Munz said. “For a lot of people, it was the first hurricane they’ve been through, so they’re taking every precaution they could take.”

Religious Responders

A number of houses of worship also are mobilized to provide aid.

St. Timothy Roman Catholic Church in The Villages and St. Theresa Catholic Church in Belleview will be distribution sites for food, water and essential other items.

Several area Baptist churches, including First Baptist at The Villages, Immanuel Baptist and Village of Grace Baptist are part of the Florida Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief and Recovery Ministries are beginning initial response procedures with two field kitchens on standby.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is offering free debris cleanup by calling 844-965-1386 or visiting www.crisiscleanup.org.

The Salvation Army has placed all disaster-relief resources across the state of Florida on standby. These resources include more than 30 mobile-feeding units that can each serve 500 to 1,500 meals per day. The local headquarters at 2605 South St., Leesburg, is being staged and will be preparing meals for shelters.

The Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center of Ocala, The Villages and Tri County in Oxford Chabad House is seeking volunteers to help with post-storm needs.

Churches such as Oxford Assembly of God, Hope Community Church, Leesburg Church of the Nazarene, Northside Christian in Fruitland Park and Open Door Community Church in Summerfield have opened as shelters.

Scene at Shelters

About 50 of the 375 cots at the Sumter County Fairgrounds were taken by 11 a.m. Monday, one of two shelters the county opened.

A half dozen people were working 12-hour shifts, and two law enforcement officers were standing by.

The air conditioning was on high, blasting cool air from the entrance to the back area that housed the cots. The only sounds were whispers of information between people checking them in.

Even the few babies in the room were quiet aside from some subdued babbling, but one child’s toy gave off slight whirring noises as wheels moved across a cot. It was almost as if the kids were aware of the situation and didn’t want to be disruptive.

Silvestra Garcia, of Webster, said her husband’s well-being was her main concern for taking refuge there.

“He had a triple bypass,” she said, “and with the strokes he’s had, and now he has cancer … I don’t want to be without lights and going through it myself.”

Sumter County also opened a special needs shelter at Wildwood Community Center with 96 cots and medical supplies such as oxygen and defibrillators.

About 15 people, including nurses, were working there Monday. Two nurses arrived from Miami with their personal luggage and pillows.

Another shelter in Sumter County also was opened by the Oxford Assembly of God.

“We have a kids room. We have a cat room. We have a dog room,” said Laura Jones, the church’s administrative assistant. “We have registration, and we have charging stations.”

The church has been offering the storm shelter for 15 years. As of Monday afternoon, they’d taken in two people.

Back at the fairgrounds, most people who registered for the shelter went home to wait in comfort until conditions worsened.

Jose and Joana Salto, of Bushnell, brought their three children, Jaylanie, 8, Josiah, 2, and seven-and-a-half-month-old Jason to set up a space for them to grab later in the evening. They put sheets over some of the cots and left to “pick up stuff and settle in.”

Joana Salto said they were planning to wait out the duration of the hurricane in the shelter because they felt safer there than in their mobile home.

Lt. L.J. Wynn of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office said everyone should feel welcome, no matter the reason.

“Come in and feel safe,” he said. “We’ll take everyone.”

Senior writer David R. Corder can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.