Shelters open, gas running out in Polk Co. ahead of storm

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Even though Hurricane Matthew is not predicted to hit hard in the Bay Area if it stays on its current track, Polk County residents here are not taking any chances.

Mid afternoon on Wednesday, Paul Sylvestre and his wife were leaving their mobile home in Winter Haven on their way to buy water and snacks. From there, they were heading west.

"Living in this kind of home is not always safe," he told FOX 13. "So we’re going to my ex-wife’s in Lakeland."

"With your current wife?" we asked.

"Yeah, yeah. They’re best friends," he replied.

Others in Polk County have very different plans. Several thousand special needs residents got a call from the Polk Emergency Operations Center asking if they want to go to a special needs shelter. The county is opening one at the Polk County Health Department in Bartow at 8 a.m. Thursday, well before the county feels any effects of the storm.

Polk Emergency Management Director Pete McNally said wind gusts are expected to begin sweeping through the area Thursday night.

"For the most part, they won’t damage well-constructed homes," McNally said. "But they could certainly propel loose objects and make them into missile hazards."

McNally said anyone whose home is older or not in good shape should consider moving in with a friend or going to a shelter. Three shelters will be open for the general public: one in Haines City, another in Davenport, and a third in Lake Wales.

Polk residents are also stocking up on bottled water and gas. FOX 13 went to three gas stations in Winter Haven. Two were out of gas. The third was running out and had several pumps covered with black plastic.

A local Publix called in it’s cashiers early to help deal with the number of people buying bottled water.