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RV parks and campgrounds near Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida were bracing for the impact of Hurricane Wilma, which came ashore Monday (Oct. 24) morning just south of Naples bearing 125 mph winds.
According to a report in the Palm Beach Post, residents at the Lakeview Manor RV Resort in Okeechobee had begun evacuating Sunday.
“I’m taking some some clothes and loose sheets and my Bible,” said 60-year-old Joe Erianne, getting ready to leave his home at Lakeview.
Erianne was among the last residents to leave Lake Manor, which is one of the few parks in Okeechobee within the Hoover Dike. The 140-mile, 35-foot-high dike surrounds the lake and keeps homes for about 40,000 people living outside the dam from flooding.
The 70-year-old dike was not expected to fail when Hurricane Wilma comes through today and causes storm surges in the lake of up to 12 feet. But that doesn’t mean much for 100 or so people living within the dam.
“I’ll be here if it don’t blow me out,” said Grady Blevins, 88.
Blevins, donning a blue cap with “Country Boy” printed across the front, planned to stay with his wife, Elma, at their home in Old River Run RV Park. The two also remained in the park, which lies within the dike, when hurricanes Frances and Jeanne came through last year.
Those two storms left only a broken gutter at the Blevinses’ home.
Just south of Old River Run at Okee-Tanti Campground and Marina, Hurricane Jeanne lifted the boat dock over 10-foot poles and carried it to a nearby parking lot. The bait shop on the property was flooded up to its windows.
When the campground was drained, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) set up 40 trailers for Okeechobee residents who had been living outside the dike and lost their homes to the storm.
A year later, the remaining 23 trailers at the county-owned campground were the first to be evacuated last week when Wilma took aim at South Florida.
“If she (Wilma) blows in here as a Category 2, those FEMA people are gonna have to come clean up a heck of a mess,” campground manager Sue Baker said. “Those trailers are only tied down with two straps each.”
While homes inside the dike were a top priority, Okeechobee officials issued a mandatory evacuation for all county residents living in mobile homes and trailers. That includes about 60% of the county’s 38,000 population, said Emergency Management Director Gene O’Neil.
But with only about 3,000 people able to fit into five Okeechobee schools approved as hurricane shelters, county officials were encouraging residents to take shelter with family or find hotels in nearby Hillsborough or Polk counties.