Polk residents head to shelters for safety from the storm

As of Thursday night, 87 people had sought shelter near Lake Wales in this Polk County emergency shelter.

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – It’s been a dozen years since the eyes of three hurricanes crossed Lake Wales in Polk County, but residents there haven’t forgotten the havoc such storms can reap.

As Hurricane Matthew bears down on Florida’s east coast, more than 100 Lake Wales residents sought shelter Thursday night inside Spook Hill Elementary School, which serves as that area’s emergency storm shelter. “We got little ones so we decided to get here early before the big rush,” evacuee Stan Baker SAID. “Basically, that’s why we’re here, for the safety of everybody.”

Spook Hill Principal Michelle Browning helped Red Cross volunteers manage things inside the temporary shelter.

“We do have many people who have brought air mattresses of their own,” Browning said. “We’ve made efforts to provide cots and blankets from what we have or what we can find we’ve even had one of our teachers who is trying to line up cots from her neighbors and friends and local Boy Scouts to accommodate the people.”

Lake Wales Fire Chief Joe Jenkins says his city has distributed about 1,500 sandbags Thursday. He had overlapping crews of firefighters ready to respond to any emergencies the storm may trigger.

Jenkins says citizens in the area smacked by three hurricanes back in 2004 are responding well as he next one bears down toward this area of Florida. “Had a lot of phone calls, a lot of ‘What should we do?'” Jenkins explained. “And that’s what we want.”

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