USF Sun Dome opens as shelter for people with special needs ahead of Irma

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Posted at 10:55 PM, Sep 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-09 14:47:21-04

UPDATE: The Sun Dome is now full and no longer accepting evacuees. 


Hurricane Irma is forcing hundreds of people in Tampa to flee from their homes. 

RELATED: Hurricane Irma: Shelter locations

"I thought it would be safe and I'd get shelter here and we'd be fine," said Steve Motzno, who evacuated from Palm Beach. 

Steve Motzno escaped south Florida hoping he'd find a safe place in Tampa to ride out the storm.

But when Tampa issued evacuation orders, staff at the Marriott Waterside Hotel in downtown forced hotel guests out. 

"We were all panicked because no one where they were going to go," said Motzno. "We didn't know if we could stay and then by 2 p.m. they told us the Governor said that we all have to leave."

Motzno found what he calls life-saving shelter for his 88-year-old mother at the University of South Florida. 

Officials opened the USF Sun Dome Friday to serve as an emergency shelter for people with special needs. The Sun Dome was housing about 150 people by Friday afternoon. 

"I brought my mom here for safety and for shelter," said Motzno. "My mom is diabetic, she's up in age and they're taking really good care of her here."

The Sun Dome's garage has been a revolving door to ambulances and medical transportation vehicles. 

Dave Pignatello says his 93-year-old father is terminally ill and won't survive without electricity. 

"It would be a nightmare trying to transport him out of the state because of his medical needs," said Pignatello. 

Our area's most vulnerable are finding shelter on a college campus. The service provided by nurses and emergency operations staff can be summed up in one word. 

"Relief," said Pignatello. "Relief because he's very ill and if he's in a situation where he loses electricity, AC, any of that could be life-threatening." 

Gov. Rick Scott calling on all nurses in a Twitter post Friday night. He says Florida needs 1,000 volunteer nurses to help at special needs shelters.

To volunteer, email

Hillsborough County Emergency Management has a second special needs shelter open at Strawberry Crest High School. 

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