Pinellas County sandbags running short, community spirit is not

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – During the past several days, Pinellas residents bracing for Hurricane Irma have filled close to 400,000 sandbags, and they’re still looking for more. 

“Better to be prepared than not,” said Debbie Minkel.

Minkel and her daughter Amanda waited in line for nearly four hours to get their ration of 20 sandbags at Taylor Park in Largo, one of five distribution points operated by Pinellas County Government.

Five county distribution sites gave away 200,000 sandbags, according to Pinellas Commission Chair Janet Long, and planned to keep going until 7 p.m. Friday or when supplies ran out.

The City of St. Petersburg ran out of sandbags early Friday morning after handing out 140,000 bags and Clearwater also exhausted its supplies by 10:30 a.m. after distributing thousands more.

Liz Fiori, pregnant and with her two-year-old daughter in tow, was lucky enough to get one of the last loads before Clearwater shutdown its site due to a lack of sand.

“I’ve been in Florida for 25 years,” Fiori said. “So, we’re ready to ride out the storm.”

Amid the frenzy to fill bags and save homes, unsung heroes emerged to help. 8 on Your Side found Gavin Zephyrin, his seven-year-old nephew Davion Whitson, and other family members filling bags for total strangers by the dozen at Taylor Park.

“Bend your knees, bend your knees,” Zephyrin urged as his nephew struggled to haul bags they had just filled.

Zephyrin told us he’d filled enough sandbags for his own home protection days ago, but Friday he was back to help at Taylor Park, where mothers and daughters and elderly resident struggled with shovels, bags and dirt in the oppressive, midday heat.

“Just helping fill bags for other people,” Zephyrin said quietly without pausing in his work. “That’s all.”

His seven-year-old nephew told us he was having a good time playing in the dirt.

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