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Panthers 'ready to support our Florida family,' cope with Hurricane Irma

BB&T Center will be used to store emergency vehicles, house first responders during storm @NHLdotcom

The Florida Panthers are doing their part to assist the South Florida community with Hurricane Irma expected to make landfall there this weekend.

The Panthers will allow local officials to use their home arena, BB&T Center, as a storage facility for emergency vehicles and to house police and fire rescue officers. In addition, Panthers president Matthew Caldwell will be part of a contingent of employees who will sleep in the arena and assist emergency crews through the weekend.

"We are here and ready to support our Florida family, Broward County and the city of Sunrise as the community prepares for Irma's possible landfall," Panthers owner Vincent J. Viola said in a statement. "Service to the community and family are in the DNA of our organization."

The Panthers also bought 30 cots for themselves and anyone who may get stranded.

"I just think it's important for the Panthers to be leaders and stewards in the community and physically be here with the cops and firefighters and commissioners," Caldwell told "When you're on the ground with people, you never know what's going to happen."

The arena's location is relatively safe, with the benefit of the Everglades on one side and about 20 miles of land between it and the ocean on the other to potentially slow the storm.

"We just feel like, of course, safety is important, we want to make sure our team is good, but just as important is trying to assist," Caldwell said. "We're a professional sports franchise with great fans and great people that have always supported us, so we wanted to be there for the community. So we'll be out there trying to help out and volunteering and doing whatever we can."

Hurricane Wilma, the last major storm to hit South Florida, in October 2005, was responsible for 87 deaths and caused $2 million in damage to BB&T Center.

BB&T Center has established a hotline at (954) 835-8911 that will have the most up-to-date information regarding the building.

Fans are encouraged to visit Broward County's Hurricane Irma website to learn more about hurricane shelters, guides and information. Weather information and updates can be found at the National Hurricane Center's website  or the National & Regional Hurricane Center's Twitter accounts.

Several Panthers players, their families and their pets will evacuate South Florida on Friday and fly to Boston. The team chose Boston because of its proximity to their American Hockey League affiliate, which is located in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Panthers will begin training camp in Springfield on Sept. 14 if they are unable to return to Sunrise by then. staff writer Cristina Ledra contributed to this report.

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