AP — The general in charge of the Ohio National Guard says 7,000 soldiers from several states will be sent to Florida to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
Maj. General Mark Bartman told The Associated Press Saturday that the Ohio National Guard will be part of a contingent that also includes National Guard units from Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. The Ohio National Guard is sending as many as 3,500 Ohio soldiers.
Bartman says Ohio Guard soldiers will head to Florida starting sometime next week. It’s the Ohio National Guard’s first large deployment of soldiers for U.S. disaster relief since Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast in 2005.
The general says Ohio Guard soldiers will be involved in varying missions that could include providing security alongside local law enforcement and helping transport stranded people to shelters.
Florida officials have started allowing people to drive on the shoulders of Interstate 4, the main highway that links Tampa to Orlando.
The Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Highway Patrol announced the move on Saturday. It came in the aftermath of updated forecasts that show Hurricane Irma taking aim at Tampa.
State officials have been permitting motorists to use shoulders instead of allowing one-way flow on the state’s highways. Florida has told more than 6 million to evacuate ahead of the killer storm and the mass exodus has jammed the roads.
Gov. Rick Scott has resisted calls to reverse the flow of lanes. Georgia’s governor authorized one-way traffic in order to help with evacuations in that state. State officials cautioned that driving on the left-hand shoulder is only allowed when motorists are directed to do so by police and highway signs.
Many Florida families say online retailers let them down at the worst possible moment with cancellations and no-shows ahead of powerful Hurricane Irma even before the weather deteriorated.
The Associated Press has received more than 50 complaints from South Florida families who were expecting flashlights, battery-operated radios, water bottles and first-aid kits after placing orders with online retailers.
Customers said on Saturday that they received the cancellations only after evacuations had begun in their neighborhoods and local markets’ shelves had emptied. Some had placed orders as early as Monday.
Other said their packages arrived in Miami but were either stuck at a sorting facility for a few days or delayed because of problems with couriers.
A Nestle-owned water delivery company, ReadyRefresh, apologized on Twitter for service disruptions and delays.
More than 50,000 people in Florida are seeking shelter in schools, community centers and churches as Hurricane Irma nears the state.
The government-sponsored shelters were open Saturday as officials warned 6.3 million Floridians to evacuate. The storm was expected to make landfall in Florida on Sunday. Those with nowhere to turn headed to the shelters while others sought lodging at hotels or with friends and family.
Red Cross shelter coordinator Steve Bayer said most people at shelters are grateful and happy.
Steve and Judith Smith of Orlando fled their mobile home and wound up at their local middle school after all the nearby hotels were sold out.
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