Bellot: If storm hits coast, everyone evacuates

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Based on a survey recently completed by the Army Corps of Engineers, a Category 4 or 5 hurricane can bring water as far inland as U.S. 19. A Category 1 or 2 storm would cut Cedar Key off from the mainland. And the problem is compounded by the mix of saltwater moving inland, river water backing up and rainwater having no place to go.

``It's not a good situation,'' Bellot said. ``I hope we never have to face it, but we have to be prepared.''

Bellot said there's only one solution when a major storm approaches the Gulf Coast. In a Category 2 storm or above, everyone between the coast and U.S. 19 is evacuated.

"No one stays on the coast in a major hurricane,'' he said. "They must evacuate if they want to survive.''

The first choice for shelter is a friend or relative.

``You don't want to be in a public shelter unless you have no (other) place to go,'' Bellot said. ``The conditions are rough. It's camping at best.''

The critical thing in a total evacuation is time. Everyone must be packed and gone before the wind speeds get high enough to make the roads dangerous.

"We can clear in less than eight hours,'' Bellot said, "probably closer to five.''

And that time is critical for Bellot and others who have to make the decision to evacuate.

"Every emergency manager is acutely aware of the crying-wolf syndrome,'' he said.

If emergency managers tell people to evacuate too often, and the storm doesn't hit, people are going to be reluctant about evacuating in the future.