Hurricane Irma devastated other parts of Florida, causing less damage than feared in Tampa and surrounding communities.
But area homes, businesses and other locations were not entirely spared from Irma’s wrath.
Concerns continue over rising floodwaters, which already have flooded homes and roads.
And, Irma’s whipping winds knocked down trees, shredded billboards, damaged fences, ripped off shingles and siding and did other types of damage to locations throughout The Laker/Lutz News coverage area.
Power outages became a major hassle for residents and businesses, causing many businesses to remain closed after Irma blew through and utility crews to swarm to widespread power outages.
Pasco’s four power companies — Duke Energy, Tampa Electric, Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative and Sumter Electric Cooperative — reported 217,382 addresses without power, according to statistics provided by Pasco County’s emergency management officials.
Still, Pasco County officials were grateful that the area did not feel the full force of Irma’s fury.
Throughout Pasco County, Irma destroyed four homes and caused major damage to 56, according to county statistics. Additionally, 124 homes had minor damage and 205 were affected. Plus, 90 businesses reported property damage.
“I think we’re fortunate. We were forecasted to possibly see a Category 3 or (Category) 4 hurricane come right through here. We are fortunate that did not happen,” said Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore.
Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley noted there was concern about the county’s mobile home communities, in particular, given the high winds that were predicted.
“If you look at Zephyrhills, they really came through,” Oakley said. “We’re very fortunate.”
Both commissioners said they continue to be concerned about rising floodwaters and property damage, but they also praised the community’s response to Irma.
“Our citizens in Pasco County are just amazing,” Moore said. “I have just witnessed so many people being so generous in helping one another, and offering to help each other.”
In the run-up to the hurricane, for instance, people were filling up sandbags all over the county to help them protect their businesses and homes.
At one location, Moore said, he began chatting with some of the folks, who told him: “We were here to get sandbags. We saw people needed help, so we’ve been here for five hours. (They were) all walks of life, all types of people. The community has really come together.”
Irma’s potential threat prompted the opening of 26 hurricane shelters across Pasco County, which housed 24,100 people, including those with special needs.
Nearly 800 students and support personnel sheltered at University Campus in St. Leo.
Damage assessments are ongoing, but Irma knocked down a number of trees on the campus, and water got into at least 60 rooms, according to a university report.
After Irma passed, Moore said he put out a call for volunteers to load equipment at Wesley Chapel High School to help get some nursing home residents back home.
“I put on a Facebook call to action and said, ‘Hey, if anybody can down here, we’re loading U-Haul trucks with equipment.’
“You wouldn’t believe the response,” he said, noting he wound up telling some volunteers that they already had enough help.
“I was touched by that, just knowing that our citizens are there, wanting to help one another and not looking for any accolades.”
Another bunch of volunteers showed up on Sept. 15 to help load cleaning supplies, snack foods, clothing and other donations onto a convey of 10 vehicles at Wesley Chapel Nissan, to take them to the Pasco County Staging Area, a temporary distribution center near the Suncoast Parkway.
The donations came from customers and employees of the dealership, members of the Wesley Chapel Rotary Club Noon, members of the community, area churches and Support the Troops.
Hurricane Irma also caused plenty of disruptions.
Besides the power outages, parents were forced to find new day care options, as public schools in both Hillsborough and Pasco counties closed as Hurricane Irma approached, and remained closed for the week following its landfall.
Those venturing around The Laker/Lutz News coverage area found it more difficult to get around, too.
At the peak of the storm, 749 county roads were closed, and in the aftermath, 97 of the county’s 260 traffic signals weren’t working because of power outages.
There were stop signs at some normally lighted intersections; generators strapped to utility boxes at others; and, in most cases, motorists were expected to treat the intersection like a four-way stop. Some motorists did, but others did not.
Considerable efforts were made to keep the public informed.
Those stepping up to provide emergency help drew high praise from elected officials.
The county’s Resident Information Center fielded 20,340 calls between Sept. 8 and Sept. 14, and throughout the storm, the Joint Information Center used social media, news releases and video links to provide timely information in English, Spanish and American Sign Language. Those communications included 57 news releases, 42 media alerts, five news conferences and 67 media inquiries. There were 12 reporters embedded in the Pasco County Emergency Operations Center.
Pasco County officials also are grateful for a lengthy list of community partners and agencies that have been helping in recovery efforts. Those partners include law enforcement agencies, utility companies, city governments, the school board, the University of South Florida, Pasco-Hernando State College, the Florida National Guard, volunteer ham radio operators, emergency response team volunteers and external rescue teams from Ohio, Arkansas, Illinois, among others.
Commission Chairman Moore put it this way: “The team has just been incredible. These people are running on fumes. You never hear anybody complaining.”
He planned to express his appreciation at the board’s session this week.
“I will give them a standing ovation at the meeting,” Moore said.
Published September 20, 2017