Irma leaves be­hind foul stink across re­gion

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Jeff Weiner

Not con­tent to dam­age homes, toss trees and knock out power to mil­lions, Hur­ri­cane Irma has left be­hind a nox­ious brew of funk, too.

Res­i­dents across the re­gion Tues­day re­ported catch­ing a whiff of a foul, ran­cid smell that of­fi­cials blamed on dead fish, stag­nant water, flooded ponds and rot­ting de­bris — but likely not sewage.

Ju­liana Cal­loway said she started to no­tice the smell Sun­day — an acrid odor in the air out­side her home in Al­ta­monte Springs, like spent fire­works. At first, she feared a neigh­bor was burn­ing de­bris. Soon, Cal­loway re­al­ized the stink wasn’t just in her neigh­bor­hood — it was out­side her office in Win­ter Park, too, and at her son’s preschool.

“This morn­ing, it was just so bad,” she said. “I have a 4-year-old, and he was like, ‘It smells like rot­ten eggs out here, Mommy.’ ”

The stench was re­ported in Or­lando, Long­wood, Al­ta­monte Springs, Oviedo and Lake County, among other com­mu­ni­ties. Many took to so­cial me­dia Tues­day to com-

plain.

Me­lanie Adamski, who lives near Wekiwa Springs State Park, said she be­gan to no­tice it Mon­day. As a can­cer pa­tient, Adamski was al­ready suf­fer­ing nau­sea, so the smell was es­pe­cially un­wel­come. “It smelled kind of like some­thing rot­ting — chem­i­cals or sewage,” she said.

Of­fi­cials say the rot­ten smell is com­mon in the af­ter­math of a storm, such as Irma, which ram­paged across the state last week with tor­ren­tial rains and pow­er­ful winds.

“As soon as we smelled that, it was like, there’s that smell again. That’s the Fay smell,” said Alan Har­ris, emer­gency man­ager for Semi­nole County, re­fer­ring to the trop­i­cal storm that caused heav­ing flood­ing in 2008. “I re­mem­ber it very well.”

Gov­ern­ment ex­perts pointed to a va­ri­ety of cul­prits.

Rot­ting fish are likely a fac­tor be­cause flood­ing can kill them off in large num­bers by dis­rupt­ing the salin­ity and oxy­gen lev­els in lakes, rivers and oceans, said Greg Work­man, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion.

“I per­son­ally be­lieve that there’s been mul­ti­ple causes. That’s just one of them,” he said. “If you’re in an area where there was a fish kill, of course, de­cay­ing fish will give off an odor.”

Or­lando of­fi­cials also noted that heavy rains can sat­u­rate the ground­wa­ter, re­sult­ing in a sul­fur-like smell sim­i­lar to rot­ten eggs. The muck and sed­i­ment left be­hind as flood­ing re­cedes can also stink, they said.

The storm also prompted wide­spread sewage over­flows when pump­ing sta­tions lost power. While spilled sewage stinks, it’s un­likely to pro­duce the rot­ten egg smell many de­scribed, or to blan­ket the en­tire re­gion in a funky odor, of­fi­cials said.

“You have to be right next to a lift sta­tion that’s over­flow­ing to smell that — not miles from the lift sta­tion,” Har­ris said.

Irma also blan­keted the re­gion with fallen leaves, branches and en­tire trees. While it’s un­likely those are no­tice­ably rot­ten al­ready, lo­cal gov­ern­ments are ex­pected to need weeks to col­lect all the yard waste that res­i­dents have piled up since the storm.

Or­lando has crews out col­lect­ing bun­dled or bagged plant de­bris seven days a week, said Mike Car­roll, the city’s solid waste man­ager. Irma left be­hind about 300,000 cu­bic yards of plant de­bris in Or­lando — four times as much as the city col­lected in all of 2016.

Over­all, the storm left 1 mil­lion cu­bic yards of de­bris each in Or­ange and Semi­nole coun­ties, ac­cord­ing to early es­ti­mates. Both coun­ties have drop-off lo­ca­tions for res­i­dents who want to clear it them­selves.

Car­roll said find­ing con­trac­tors with the right equip­ment to pick up storm de­bris has been un­usu­ally chal­leng­ing be­cause many crews were al­ready busy in Hous­ton clean­ing up the de­struc­tion from Hur­ri­cane Har­vey when Irma set its sights on Florida.

To make mat­ters worse, Irma was mas­sive — caus­ing dam­age in ev­ery pop­u­la­tion cen­ter in the state. Cities across Florida, Car­roll said, are “all chas­ing the same dis­as­ter com­pany re­sources. Our pri­mary con­trac­tor has had great dif­fi­culty get­ting more re­sources.”

Not ev­ery­one was both­ered by the funk.

Bob Wil­liams of Long­wood said he’d seen neigh­bors grip­ing about the smell on­line, but he didn’t no­tice it un­til he spent a few hours Tues­day clear­ing branches. Though Wil­liams de­tected a “slight odor of sewer gas,” he said none of the plant de­bris seemed to be rot­ting.

“It’s all dried up, and it doesn’t smell bad,” he said.

PHO­TOS BY RED HU­BER/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Long­wood res­i­dent Bob Wil­liams, left, and Semi­nole County work­ers, above, clean up de­bris. Although limb de­bris has caused its own set of prob­lems, of­fi­cials say the stench in Cen­tral Florida is the re­sult of dead fish, stag­nant water, flooded ponds...

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