Florida launches app to help find shelter for hurricane evacuees


MIAMI (NewsNation) — Traditional hurricane shelters in Florida will look different this storm season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some people will even be eligible to go to a hotel instead of a shelter, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

The state is launching a smart phone app that will allow some evacuees to register for up to seven nights free in a hotel.

People with COVID-19, those exposed to the virus, anyone over the age of 65, or evacuees with pre-existing medical conditions will be eligible for the hotel rooms.

For Miami resident Anita Martin, it is an option she’ll likely take advantage of.

“I will use the hotel option and if I don’t have that option, it will be a problem. In shelters everyone is crushed together, in hallways, you know what I’m saying. People coughing and sneezing,” Hill said.

Martin normally evacuated to a shelter when a hurricane struck in the past, but says if the hotel option wasn’t available, she would stay home out of fear of being around others this year.

According to a University of South Florida survey, 71 percent of Floridians said they would be less likely to go to a hurricane shelter during the COVID pandemic.

Because so many South Florida hotels are near the coast, emergency managers say there likely will not be enough rooms and traditional shelters will still be necessary.

Shelters are being modified because of the pandemic. Instead of housing people only in cafeterias and gymnasiums, classrooms will be utilized so people can socially distance. And more shelters will open to reduce crowd sizes inside.

“If we have a category one or two type storm and we would normally open up 8 to 10 of the evacuation centers we will double that amount. And then we will spread the people out more,” said Frank Rollason, Miami-Dade Emergency Management Director.

There will also be temperature screenings and masks at shelters.

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