Irma took toll on trees, not houses
Catastrophic damage isolated; like 2016’s Matthew, ‘we dodged a bullet.’
In less than 24 hours, the most oft-used phrase in Palm Beach County switched from “hunkering down” to “dodging a bullet.”
As people from Boca Raton to Jupiter to Belle Glade emerged from their mostly darkened homes Monday to assess how much damage the surprisingly ferocious winds of Hurricane Irma inflicted during its relentless 18-hour onslaught, most were relieved to find downed tree limbs, not devastated dwellings.
Even some of the most fragile parts of the county escaped serious injury.
“It’s much better than I
of her home on Northeast Fourth Street was ripped off and water began to pour in.
“My whole life was in expected,” County Comthere,” Debbie Jennings missioner Melissa McKin- said tearfully of her waterlay said after touring the soaked home and ruined impoverished western com- belongings. munities surrounding Lake Overall, however, a scene Okeechobee. at a boat yard near Tequesta
Fearing the lake would was more typical. While wind overflow the Herbert Hoover gusts as high as 84 mph Dike that surrounds it, anx- peeled aluminum walls off ious county officials ordered a three-level boat storage an emergency evacuation of building at the Jupiter Pointe Belle Glade, Pahokee and Club & Marina, none of the surrounding communities boats were damaged. as Irma took aim. Many appeared stunned
Instead, like most resi- that damage overall wasn’t dents in the eastern part of more severe. the county, downed trees, “I think we were very forloss of power, water-soaked tunate,” said Royal Palm yards and minimal building Beach Mayor Fred Pinto. damage were the main post“It could have been a heck Irma headaches for Glades of a lot worse. All along, we residents. were saying, ‘Prepare for the
“I know it sounds cliché, worst and hope for the best.’ but we definitely dodged I think we got the best.” a bullet,” McKinlay said, But, that doesn’t mean life repeating a phrase count- will quickly return to normal less other county officials or that full tally of damage used throughout the day. has been made.
The biggest dilemma for Power remains out for many residents, who were roughly 500,000 county forced to stay home from residents and another 3 mil- work after spending a day lion customers in Florida trapped in their homes, was Power & Light’s 35-county boredom. But even as beer coverage area. and lattes starting flowing at With some traffic lights mid-day at Clematis Street still out at some intersec- bars and bistros in down- tions, electric lines down town West Palm Beach, Hurand some roads blocked by ricane Irma undoubtedly downed trees, county offi- left heartache and horror cials ordered a curfew from in her wake. dusk to dawn. It will remain
An elderly woman in Palm in effect indefinitely, said Beach was found dead in County Administrator Verdeher home. Three animals nia Baker.
— a tree frog, a toucan-like Power outages are also aracari and an otter named keeping county schools Rudder — died at the Palm closed at least t hrough Beach Zoo, probably from Wednesday. storm-related stress, zoo FPL officials said it could officials said. take weeks before electric-
Hundreds of frail people ity is restored to all homes. remained at the county’s But they promised to mount special-needs shelter at the the largest power restoration South Florida Fairgrounds force in the company’s and because their lives depend the nation’s history — nearly on electricity to power medi- 18,000 workers from 30 cal devices — electricity that, states and Canada to bring thanks to Irma, no longer power back to the region. exists at their homes. Likewise, tree limbs home
Further, for some, Irma owners are dragging to the was terrifying. Strong winds street won’t disappear anyripped through Wellington’s time soon.
French Quarter, leaving at Trucks operated by haulers least one mother and daugh- who are expected to flood in ter temporarily homeless. from out of state have to be
A Delray Beach woman certified to collect the debris, was rescued after the roof said Willie Puz, a spokesman
for the county’s Solid Waste Authority.
Trucks will begin picking up yard waste Thursday but it could take weeks before the mountains of vegetation disappears, he said. Last year’s near-hit by Hurricane Matthew generated a whopping 95,000 cubic yards of garbage and yard trash — an amount likely to be far eclipsed by Irma, he said.
“We’ll just keep making additional passes until it’s all picked up,” Puz said, adding that debris collections wouldn’t be limited to normal schedules. Regular garbage collection is to resume today.
At the same time additional power and trash crews are being assembled, the South Florida Water Management District is still assessing damage to flood-control structures in its 16-county district to restore water flow the region depends on. Similar damage assessment exercises are being conducted by other governmental agencies.
County officials said it could be days before a full damage assessment is made so money can be sought from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. An emergency declaration is expected to be made to turn on the money spigot.
Bill Johnson, director of the county’s Division of Emergency Management, urged patience.
“We just had a Category 4 storm breeze by us,” he said, recalling Matthew’s wobble that spared the county last year.
Then, he added : “We dodged a bullet again.”