Residents, travelers head for shelter in St. Johns County as Irma approaches

CHRISTINA.KELSO@STAUGUSTINE.COM St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office personnel watch over the entrance of Timberlin Creek Elementary on Saturday, September 9, 2017. The school is currently serving as a Pet Friendly Shelter for St. Johns County families seeking refuge from Hurricane Irma.

Shelters around St. Johns County opened bright (OK, maybe not so bright) and early Saturday morning to residents seeking shelter from Hurricane Irma.


For some, there wasn’t much of a choice.

With a mandatory evacuation and limited means of transportation and/or lack of sufficient housing, an emergency shelter was the only place to turn to for some families, and their pets.

At Timberlin Creek Elementary, one of two pet-friendly shelters open in the county, 34 people had checked in with 25 pets in tow by 8:30 a.m., just two and half hours after opening.

Principal Linda Edel said she had “several” school district employees on hand to provide help, on a rotating schedule, with operations.

The following shelters are open to the public: Pacetti Bay Middle School, 245 Meadowlark Lane (special needs); Timberlin Creek Elementary School, 555 Pine Tree Lane (pet-friendly); Pedro Menendez High School, 600 State Road 206 West (general population); Bartram Trail High School, 7399 Longleaf Pine Parkway (general population); South Woods Elementary School, 4750 State Road 206 (pet-friendly); and Mill Creek Elementary School, 3750 International Golf Parkway (general population).

As of 11 a.m., there were 64 people sheltering at Pacetti Bay, with a capacity of 300; 38 people and 29 pets at Timberlin Creek, with a capacity of 500; 400 people at Pedro Menendez, with a capacity of 500; 53 people at Bartram Trail, with a capacity of 500; 47 people and 26 pets at South Woods, with a capacity of 500; and 18 people at Mill Creek, with a capacity of 800.

The shelter at Mill Creek was opened Friday night at the request of the state’s emergency operations center to help accommodate those who have been evacuated from South Florida and are traveling north on major thoroughfares.

The school district said the shelter is open to any and all who need it.

The National Hurricane Center’s 11 a.m. Saturday forecast had the storm tracking to the west, although with St. Johns County still within the cone of uncertainty and still expected to see significant impacts from the storm by late Sunday to early Monday.

Except for the westernmost portion of the Florida Panhandle, the state’s entire coastline was outlined in the color red, indicating a hurricane warning. The western portions of the state still had hurricane and tropical storm watches in effect.

During a press conference Saturday morning, Gov. Rick Scott’s advice for Floridians in evacuation zones was pretty clear: evacuate.

“Not tonight, not in an hour,” he said. “You need to go right now.”

Scott said residents in these areas who have decided to stay put, or who are considering it, must remember, “once the storm starts, law enforcement cannot save you.”

Leading up to the storm, local officials said taking shelter at one of the schools is really a last resort, instead encouraging those who could to stay with friends or family outside the evacuation zones.

County Administrator Michael Wanchick said during a press conference on Friday that the shelters were not hotel rooms and that evacuees would be responsible for providing their own creature comforts, as well as provisions.

For more shelter information, go to For questions, call 904-824-5550.