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Polk County taking action ahead of Dorian

There are people in the area who still have blue tarps on the roofs from Hurricane Irma 2 years ago.
A downed tree took out part of an apartment building in Winter Haven, leaving eight families displaced. It's one of the many fallen trees that caused damage in Polk County.

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Polk County Commissioners declared a state of emergency Friday ahead of the forecasted arrival of hurricane Dorian.

Unfortunately for Polk County, they deal with quite a few storms once they make landfall and move across the state.

In fact, there are people in the area who still have blue tarps on the roofs from Hurricane Irma two years ago.

Polk County is also still waiting to collect about a $30 million reimbursement from that storm, which the county had to shell-out for cleanup costs.

Now, before any of that could even become a memory, here comes another storm.

“Why us? I just went through this two years ago with Irma,” said Melinda Greene, who still has unfinished house repairs leftover from Irma.

It’s sickening, she says, to think another storm is likely on the way.

“So, now I have to go through it again? I don’t want it,” said Greene. “Someone please tell it to go away.”

Polk County has dealt with storms from several directions which made landfall elsewhere in the state before gravitating toward them like a magnet.

“Whether it’s the bottom of the state or the top of the state, it’s not gonna matter,” said James Strickland, who has lived in Polk County his whole life.

In 2004, hurricanes Charley, Francis, and Jeanne dealt the area a triple blow. Two years ago, Irma made things miserable by knocking out power to 80% of Polk County. And now, there’s Dorian.

“I’ve learned the hard way,” said Strickland. “I’ve been here, I bought my house in 1997. We have rode out every hurricane in it.”

The bright side, if you can call it that, is Polk County now reacts faster and earlier.

The number of first responders has already been doubled. Lots of emergency equipment has also already been moved into place. Thirty-thousand sandbags have been distributed. Generators have been moved into locations where flooding has sometimes overwhelmed pumps.

RELATED: Hurricane Dorian now a Category 3, expected to continue strengthening before landfall

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RELATED: Polk declares local state of emergency, bringing total to 7 Tampa Bay area counties

Shelters will open Sunday. About 1,400 people with special needs will be transported, say county workers. Those who live in mobile homes, RVs, and in flood-prone areas might also be told to evacuate.

Schools will be closed on Tuesday.

Residents are showing they’re storm savvy too. Local store shelves have already been picked clean.

“People are taking it serious. That’s what they should do,” said Polk County’s Director of Emergency Management Paul Womble.

“I wasn’t worried about it a couple of years ago,” said Greene. She figured, “We’re too far inland - we’re not going to get hit. But we did.”

Before adjourning the meeting where commissioners had declared a state of emergency, Commission Chairman George Lindsay tried to end the hearing on an optimistic note.

“Remember that we will get through this safely,” said Lindsey. “And then collectively, as a community, we will put things back together and we can go from there.”

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