Hurricane Matthew could bring high winds to Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Polk County could see strong winds from Hurricane Matthew.

Polk County Emergency Operations officials have activated the emergency operations center and had all hands on deck on Thursday.

Schools are closed on Friday. County officials say five of the schools are actually being used as shelters.

Shelters open to the public were open at 1 p.m People started showing up at the Alta Vista Elementary School shelter location in Haines City as soon as the doors opened. This is the only pet-friendly location. There is also a shelter set up specifically for people with special needs.

Bobby Stinson is in a wheelchair and decided to go first-thing Thursday morning. “Just in case. I have medical problems so I thought I better come,” Stinson said.

The shelter is for patients who may be in wheelchairs, or need help with medication, or other medical issues. “People now are realizing uh oh, it’s really coming, it’s really picking up. Most of the people who come here are really dependent on electricity,” Nursing Director Tammy Durden said. The shelter can hold more than 400 people, although staff only expected to see around 100.

All of the shelters are open to the public, you do not have to live in Polk County.

This is good news for people not able to get a hotel room. Hotels all across Central Florida are sold out, including the Stay Inn & Suites in Bartow. “It has been chaotic. Phones are ringing off the hook,” Employee Christina Witmer said. “I think we’re going to be sold out until Saturday at least. Some people want to extend past that.”

Witmer said a majority of the customers are from Vero Beach, including the Naughton family, who lucked out and got a room. “We have been looking since Monday,” said Sue Naughton. “We are just happy to be safe.”

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