Clay County Emergency Management Director John Ward issued evacuation orders beginning at noon on Wednesday for zones A, B and C, as well as the North and South prongs of Black Creek.
These areas are those closest to the St. Johns River, Doctors Lake and Black Creek.
Residents can find out if they are in an evacuation zone by visiting the county website. Click here to see evacuation zones and alerts. For those unsure if they are in an evacuation area, call 877-252-9362 for assistance.
Ward said the evacuations are “highly recommended.” Clay County Public Information Officer Laura Christmas said these evacuations are not mandatory but are strongly encouraged.
The last time the county mandated evacuations was during Hurricane Irma in 2017, and a large number of people ignored this warning, Ward said.
“I think we rescued about 386 people off rooftops and front porches with Hurricane Irma,” he said. “This was the last time we’ve had to issue evacuations and people didn’t listen.”
Clay County District Schools Superintendent David Broskie said that all district schools will be closed from Wednesday, Sept. 28 through Friday and five of the school buildings have been assessed and will be used as storm shelters for the general public.
Lake Asbury Junior High will serve as a special needs shelter and those residents can be picked up and transported to the building. Additionally, Keystone Heights High School, Orange Park High School, Clay High School and Wilkinson Elementary School will be used as storm shelters for those in evacuation zones.
Additionally, all Clay County clerk branches and courthouses will be closed Wednesday through Friday. All other constitutional offices will close at noon Wednesday, Ward said.
Sheriff Michelle Cook said that the Clay County Sheriff’s Office has been working with Emergency Management to monitor the storm and have put together staffing and response plans to deal with emergencies in the county.
Off-duty personnel including deputies, first responders, jail patrol and 9-1-1 operators have been called in to assist with the large number of anticipated calls, Cook said.
“Please listen to these warnings and do not put yourself in a bad position where we have to send first responders out and risk their lives to save you,” she said. “We are going to be under storm conditions for about two days. Please do not drive around and sightsee.”
For non-emergency situations, Cook said to call the non-emergency phone line at 904-264-6512, or submit a SaferWatch tip for assistance.
The sheriff and Clay Electric CEO Ricky Davis both stressed the importance of avoiding power lines and vegetation that is knocked down due to the storm. Davis said that Clay Electric has extra crews dispatched to the area from Missouri and Texas, along with their normal crews in the county.
Clay Electric serves 14 counties and the company is prepared for the storm, but cannot guarantee immediate reestablishment of power and connection.
“I wish I could tell you how quickly we will be able to have your power back on, but there are a lot of factors that play into that,” Davis said. “The most important thing is to have a plan and to listen to the county mandates if you are in an evacuation zone.”
Clay County is expected to be hit with 24 hours of sustained tropical winds even in the inland areas, Ward said, something the county has never had to deal with before.
“Residents can expect up to 15-inches of rain and if your house floods during a thunderstorm, you can expect flooding during this,” Ward said. “I don’t think we will see catastrophic county flooding like with Irma, but significant home flooding.”
Sandbags are being provided for residents from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Wednesday, Sept. 28 at various locations throughout the county. Click here to find a pick-up sandbag location.