Florida prepares to be in the path of Tropical Storm Laura

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MONROE COUNTY, Fla. (WSVN/CBS) Leaders in Monroe County have declared a state of local emergency as Tropical Storm Laura nears Florida’s west coast and the Gulf of Mexico.

Monroe County officials said they will be activating the Emergency Operations Center due to the system, which strengthened from a depression into a tropical storm, Friday morning.

They also issued a mandatory evacuation of all live-aboard vessels, mobile homes, recreational vehicles, travel trailers and campers.

“Just like we do with any storm, obviously, we put things away that could blow in the storm,” said Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi. “We’re also asking for folks that live on boats, on trailers and campers, things like that, to evacuate also because it’s going to be bad weather. It’s going to be heavy winds.”

7News cameras captured a group of people in Islamorada as they took advantage of the clear skies, Friday afternoon.

Other area residents, like Ernesto Machado, kept a close eye on the forecast, aware that Laura could be headed to the Florida Keys.

“Depending of where we are in that cone, we make those decisions,” he said.

Machado, who owns A1A Watersports & Boat Rentals, said he may have to get some of his vessels back and close early depending on the storm’s path.

“We have to tread a thin line here. We don’t want to prematurely pick up the boats, and then the storm misses us altogether, but we also want to err on the side of caution,” he said.

Domingo Jimenez, who has lived in South Florida for more than 50 years, said he’s concerned about the inclement weather that could sweep through the Keys.

“We’re afraid for our property and our safety,” he said.

Jimenez, who has called Key Largo for the past six years, lives in an RV. He said he’s getting ready for the storm in case Laura ends up coming his way.

“We went and we bought water, food and prepared the coach,” he said

On Saturday morning, officials will discuss sheltering plans. If they were to open, they will probably do so at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

County officials are asking residents and tourists to be prepared.

“Folks that live in the Keys know what they need to do,” Gastesi said. “People that live on boats and live in trailers, things like that, don’t try to ride it out because you can never know how much it can intensify. There’s a lot of uncertainty on how much it can intensify. We’re going to play it on the safe side. Please leave, get off your boat and find shelter.”

Gastesi said he is confident everyone will take the necessary precautions.

“Anything that can fly around, bring it in,” he said.

“We’re ready. We’ve picked everything up, and we’re just getting ready to leave,” said Dominguez. “Hopefully the storm goes the other way, and we don’t have to go anywhere.”

In 2017, Machado said, Hurricane Irma destroyed his business, forcing him to move to a new location. This time, he is not willing to take any chances.

“Normally, you see these storms building in strength from far away at a rapid pace, and this one is not,” he said, “and from the last storms that have happened, they have picked up intensity at the last minute, and that’s our fear, being under-prepared.”

Monroe County government offices will be closed on Monday. However, officials said they will be monitoring the storm.

“[The storm] hasn’t really formed, and there’s the question about the intensity,” Gastesi said, “and it’s a little scary, to be honest with you.”

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