While the initial focus is on South Florida as Hurricane Irma is expected to unleash powerful winds and heavy rain on the Florida Keys beginning the night of Sept. 9, horsemen in the Ocala area also are taking precautions since the hurricane is expected to impact most of the state.
Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association CEO Lonny Powell said thoughts are with the people, horsemen, and horses of South Florida, and urged horsemen in the Ocala area to also beware of what forecasters say could be an unprecedented hurricane.
"No one's ever seen a storm of this magnitude come through (this area), let alone the state," Powell said. "Ocala is normally not a part of the concern for most hurricanes in Florida, but this storm is so wide it's going to cover the entire state. Recent models have it coming right over Marion County.
"Our thoughts and prayers are really with the horsemen, tracks, and people of South Florida, because it looks like they'll take the brunt of this storm. This has everyone in the mode of trying to help one another out."
Powell said Ocala area horsemen have spent the past few days preparing for the storm. He said many have made sure their generators are working or they acquired new generators. He said generators are especially important on farms that rely on well water to keep it flowing should the power go out.
"Farms have been battening down the hatches as best they can for a number of days now," Powell said. "I think everybody's been monitoring it very closely.
"Like any horse people—and I don't think this is surprising—the vast majority of these folks are putting in as much worry about making sure their horses are well cared for as themselves, if not more. That's who horse people are."
On Friday the FTBOA was in the process of closing its offices. It will be closed through Sept. 11. Powell said other businesses in the Ocala area are taking a similar approach.
Marion County has instituted an emergency preparedness home page to find information and resources during Hurricane Irma. The county also plans to provide updates through local news outlets and social media.
Powell said in recent days Marion County rallied to support the Houston area following Hurricane Harvey. Now they're working together to prepare for Hurricane Irma.
"I think most people now, are all about being safe, making sure their families are safe—that no one's alone, and taking care of their horses," Powell said.