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1,200 People Head To Pet-Friendly Hurricane Shelter In Sarasota County, Fla.


Hurricane Irma is heading for Florida's southwest coast. Across the state, more than 100,000 people are now at over 600 shelters. Daniel Cruz is managing one of them, a shelter in North Port, Fla., in Sarasota County, where Irma is heading. And he joins us now from the shelter at Woodlands Middle School. Hi. Welcome to the show.

DANIEL CRUZ: Hi. Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us - how many people do you have there now?

CRUZ: Currently, we're hosting about a thousand guests - perhaps a little bit more than that - and about another hundred staff members who are here working the shelter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How has the demand been? I mean, we saw very high demand here in South Florida. What is it looking like over there?

CRUZ: We believe the demand to be extremely high here, as well. I think, given the path of this storm and what we're expecting, we're still receiving guests. Winds are picking up. We hope to be able to receive guests right up until we reach the maximum wind capacity where we can safely open the building stores.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I understand you're a pet-friendly shelter. Are there many of those?

CRUZ: There are. We're currently hosting over 300 pets.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, are you seeing dogs, cats, canaries? You know, who - what are the pets there?

CRUZ: Yeah. The pets typically are dogs and cats. We don't typically allow other types of pets. Although, during these kinds of conditions, occasionally, somebody will show up. We would rather bring them in, preserve their safety even if their pet is not one of the authorized kinds. So a vast majority are dogs and cats. We do have a few anomalies of animals that have made it. But we're doing what we can.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. You know, North Port, Fla., hasn't had a hurricane of this magnitude hit in quite, quite some time. How are the preparations going?

CRUZ: It's been wonderful. This is an incredible team that's pulled together. The school was prepared ahead of time. The county was ready, done its planning ahead of time. Logistics support has been fantastic. We have food service operations. The guests are being provided with three meals a day. We're actually currently making arrangements to deliver some bag lunches because they will not be able to leave their rooms under the wind conditions we're experiencing. Those lunches will be delivered so that they don't go without a meal during noon. That can be kept safely there until the winds subside and brought out later.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just personally, if you can tell me, sir, how you're feeling in advance of this storm. I mean, how worried are the people there?

CRUZ: Well, there's a lot of anxiety. I think we're all suffering with the very same level of anxiety. And, personally, my feeling is this is an incredible opportunity. We're not given opportunities to help our public and our citizens and give back to the community. And I look upon it for myself as one of the best experiences in my life, where I've been offered this opportunity to contribute back and help. And the attitude of the patrons has been remarkable. They're in good spirits. They're - you know, they know that their lives are at great risk, and their property is at great risk. But they've just maintained a fantastic attitude about everything.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should mention just briefly you are an architect in your regular life, and you've ended up as a shelter manager this week.

CRUZ: That's correct (laughter). Yes, I've done a few projects that required an understanding of shelters. I've built a couple of emergency operations centers, managed those projects. But that had nothing to do with it. I just volunteered to help. And I guess my skillset - I was tapped for this job.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Daniel Cruz is a shelter manager in Woodlawn, North Port, Fla. Thank you.

CRUZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.