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Bay County Shelter Open for Anyone Seeking Protection from Tropical Storm Winds

Shelter manager John Sanders and another Red Cross volunteer bring in blankets for shelter seekers.

The Deane Bozeman School is serving as a safe place to spend the night for people in Bay County seeking shelter from tropical storm force winds.

“If they’re sitting at home, and they’re wondering whether to come out or not, by all means, don’t think twice. Come on out and enjoy the people in the shelter and the food. And go home tomorrow safe,” said John Sanders, who’s a Red Cross volunteer and shelter manager.

The Red Cross has set up a general population shelter in the cafeteria at the school, located at 13410 Hwy. 77 in Panama City, which can hold more than 400 people, Sanders said. And the gymnasium can hold about 500 more if needed. Since this afternoon, about a dozen people had arrived, but Sanders expects more to come tonight, he said.


“If they show up at one o’clock in the morning, we’ll still be here and ready to take them,” he said.

Sanders urges homeless people and those living in vulnerable housing, such as mobile homes, to spend the night at the shelter, he said. “Anybody living in a mobile home, they need to be in here — the strong winds can tip the mobile home over. It’s all free, doesn’t cost anything, and it could save their life.”

The shelter has snacks, coffee, water and other beverages for those spending the night.

For people planning to stay at the shelter tonight, Sanders recommends bringing a sleeping bag, blankets, pillows, personal hygiene items, along with anything else they’d like to bring for comfort.  Starbucks and several local stores have donated sandwiches, and volunteers are preparing hot meals in the cafeteria kitchen.  The shelter also has snacks, hot coffee and water, as well as a “shed full of cots,” he said.

People staying at the shelter may also bring their pets, Sanders said. “We’d prefer it to be in a cage, but we don’t want them staying away from the shelter because they don’t have a cage, so if they bring one in and don’t have a cage, we’ll accommodate. We want everybody to come in here and be safe.”

Nurses and health department staff prepare to take care of shelter seekers with medical needs at Deane Bozeman School’s cafeteria.

In a separate section of the cafeteria, the Bay County Health Department is treating people with special medical needs.  Don Rich, the health department’s preparedness planner, is managing that area, where several raised medical cots are lined up behind a partition.  The staff of nurses available have enough resources to accommodate up to 110 people, Rich said.

“If you have to, this shelter is available, and we will provide you the best care we can provide for anybody who comes here,” he said.

As of about 3:30 p.m., four people were settled in on medical cots to receive care.

The shelter opened at 1 p.m. today.  And one of the first families to arrive traveled to Panama City from their home in Pembroke Pines near Ft. Lauderdale last week after learning about Hurricane Irma’s path toward them.  They found out about the shelter this morning from the Bay County Department of Emergency Services’ press conference, which streamed live on Facebook.

“We were camping, but it was next to the beach, so we were not sure if this was a good place to stay,” said the mother, who asked not to be named. “This is our first hurricane, so we preferred to be in a place with other people who know what to do in a hurricane.”

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