Brett Murphy reporting from Ave Maria, 3:42 p.m.
Most of the stores in downtown Ave Maria are remaining open while Hurricane Matthew begins dropping rain in eastern Collier County. Marta Valle, an employee at By Way of the Family home supply store said she doesn't plan on closing early, but that could change. "We'll wait and see," Valle said, peeking outside at the rain.
But university buildings have begun to empty. Several university buildings are closing at 4 p.m. and 5:30. Michell Dimuro, a manager at the book store and Massachusetts native said this is her first hurricane. "I'm worried about it," she said, "even though other people don't seem to be." She told a student employee on the phone that they plan to be open tomorrow but they're playing it "minute-by-minute."
"Just charge your phone and crank the A/C," she said over the phone
Greg Stanley reporting from the Collier County Emergency Operations Center 7:30 p.m.
With the eye of the storm just about due east, Collier County emergency officials are cautiously optimistic that the area will be spared any major damage.
“We’re going to have intermittent rain and wind throughout the night,” said Dan Summers, director of emergency services. “It looks like the track has held rather steady and consistent. It’s moving forward at 13 to 14 mph and a little east. So it’s looking really good. We’re very fortunate.”
The county opened up its Emergency Operations Center and will keep a partial staff on throughout the night in case the weather turns.
“And that’s out of an abundance of caution in case there is any severe weather tonight,” Summers said.
There were a few scattered cases of sudden down pours and heavy wind throughout the county.
“We paid close attention to Immokalee and the rural areas just in case,” Summers said. “We had generators prepared at the high school. Immokalee had one strong rain with 30 to 40 mph winds. We can expect more of that as these few bands from the storm reach us. You’ll see intense wind for a bit and very heavy rain and then you’ll get a break.”
The county is preparing for regional help in case it’s needed on the east coast. The state is keeping a mobile hospital and other quick response vehicles at the county’s emergency center, ready to go after the hurricane makes landfall.
Collier has been working with Lee County officials to set up shelters for those evacuating the east coast.
There has been a steady but moderate stream of cars and RVs coming this way over Alligator Alley, Summers said.
“We’re seeing about the usual amount of RVs setting up overnight in parking lots,” he said. “We know FEMA is leaning forward and ready to help with logistical efforts. The state has been on top of this. The governor is pushing hard. I feel really good at this point in the storm with how the state is positioned.”