Life slowly re­turns to nor­mal in wake of Hur­ri­cane Irma

The Palm Beach Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jane Mus­grave

The an­noy­ing and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous game of who goes first at busy in­ter­sec­tions through­out Palm Beach County is slowly com­ing to an end.

With nearly 1,000 traf­fic lights back work­ing at some of the county’s 1,200 most treach­er­ous in­ter­sec­tions, many mo­torists are no longer at the mercy of those who don’t know the sim­ple rule: Treat in­ter­sec­tions with­out lights like a four-way stop.

Work­ing traf­fic lights — along with the steady re­open­ing of stores, restau­rants and even the Welling­ton Mall — were among the most vis­i­ble sym­bols on Tues­day that life was re­turn­ing to nor­mal two days af­ter county of­fi­cials said Hur­ri­cane Irma caused at least $19 mil­lion in dam­age to homes, busi­ness and govern­ment build­ings.

Now if the lights would just go back on, moun­tains of tree limbs would dis­ap­pear and schools

would re­open, life would be good.

But, while of­fi­cials spoke op­ti­misti­cally that schools could re­open on Mon­day and power could be re­stored by Sun­day to the es­ti­mated 340,000 Florida Power & Light Co. cus­tomers who re­main dark, that was hardly wel­come news to par­ents try­ing to en­ter­tain kids while sweat­ing in dark homes with­out air-con­di­tion­ing.

As for those ever-grow­ing piles of tree limbs? Get used to the view. They could re­main in place for weeks, said Solid Waste Author­ity of­fi­cials.

“This was a ma­jor hur­ri­cane that im­pacted us,” said Bill John­son, di­rec­tor of the county’s emer­gency man­age­ment agency. “That’s why it’s tak­ing so long to get ser­vices up and in or­der.”

In a show of sup­port — pos­si­bly em­pa­thy — for those deal­ing with Irma’s path of de­struc­tion on both coasts, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is plan­ning to visit the state Thurs­day, White House of­fi­cials said. They de­clined to re­veal if his visit will in­clude a stop here where he could in­spect Mar-A-Lago, his pri­vate club in Palm Beach, Trump In­ter­na­tional Golf Club near West Palm Beach and Trump Na­tional Golf Club in Jupiter.

Un­of­fi­cial re­ports in­di­cated that aside from downed trees and stand­ing wa­ter, the 90-year-old Mar-A-Lago sur­vived Irma’s wrath. In con­trast, Gov. Rick Scott has de­scribed the dam­age to the Florida’s Keys, where Irma made land­fall early Sun­day, as “dev­as­tat­ing.”

Palm Beach County of­fi­cials, who are still as­sess­ing the dam­age here, said the $19 mil­lion price-tag placed on the dam­age is likely to rise. The ini­tial as­sess­ment puts county res­i­dents and gov­ern­ments in line to get dis­as­ter as­sis­tance money from the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, said County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Ver­de­nia Baker.

In­di­vid­u­als who suf­fered dam­age can make claims on­line at www.Disas­terAs­sis­tance.gov or by call­ing 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).

Dam­age was spread through­out the county, Baker said. Poverty-wracked ar­eas like the Glades were less able to with­stand the ad­di­tional hit, she said. But she said no one area took the brunt of the storm, the first since Hur­ri­cane Wilma made an un­wel­come visit in 2005.

To many peo­ple, get­ting their elec­tri­cal power re­stored is their fond­est hope. FPL of­fi­cials said they as­sem­bled a crew of a record-set­ting 20,000 work­ers to make those dreams come true through­out its 35-county re­gion. But they and of­fi­cials at Lake Worth Util­i­ties urged pa­tience. Most of the power restora­tion in­volves the pain-stak­ing task of find­ing tree limbs in in­di­vid­ual neigh­bor­hoods that are re­spon­si­ble for in­ter­rupt­ing ser­vice, they said.

In the mean­time, health of­fi­cials urged peo­ple to ex­er­cise cau­tion when us­ing gen­er­a­tors. Al­ready two fam­i­lies in West Palm Beach and one in both Del­ray Beach and Boca Ra­ton have been treated at area hos­pi­tals for car­bon monox­ide poi­son­ing, said Tim O’Con­nor, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County Health Depart­ment.

In both cases in West Palm Beach, the cause was from fumes from a gen­er­a­tor run­ning in a garage. The cause of the in­ci­dents in Del­ray and Boca is still un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but gen­er­a­tors are sus­pected, he said.

Just as traf­fic lights are be­gin­ning to work, so too are county work­ers and oth­ers who have been idled since Irma set Florida in its sights last week. While only the North County Court­house in Palm Beach Gar­dens will be re­open for busi­ness to­day, all court em­ploy­ees are to re­port to work.

The main court­house in West Palm Beach and satel­lites in Del­ray Beach and Belle Glade are ex­pected to open to the pub­lic on Thurs­day along with other county of­fices.

Baker and John­son both ac­knowl­edged that more work re­mains to be done, but both said the county has an obli­ga­tion to help other com­mu­ni­ties with greater needs.

The Palm Beach County All-Haz­ards In­ci­dent Man­age­ment Team and Palm Beach County fire­fight­ers are be­ing sent to the Keys to help re­cov­ery ef­forts.

“We’re do­ing a lot bet­ter than our neigh­bors to the south and south­west,” John­son said. “They had to deal with the core of the storm. They have no wa­ter, no power. We’re a lot bet­ter off than they are.”

ALLEN EYESTONE / THE PALM BEACH POST

A U.S. Postal Ser­vice truck plows through flood­wa­ters out­side the post of­fice on South­ern Boule­vard in Lox­a­hatchee on Tues­day. Mail is be­ing de­liv­ered only in safe ar­eas.

THOMAS CORDY / THE PALM BEACH POST

Adrian Men­dez of Lake Worth hauls away a log out­side Ad­vanced Auto and Ex­haust Re­pair on Tues­day. Palm Beach County of­fi­cials say Irma caused at least $19 mil­lion worth of dam­age to the county.

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