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City allocates up to $1.2 million towards tornado cleanup

By Staff | Jan 12, 2016

Cape Coral City Council approved City Manager John Szerlag’s request to use $1.2 million of the funds set aside in the 2016 budget for cleanup and repairs following Saturday’s tornado in the Southwest Cape.

The funds are estimated to cover the cost of debris removal, overtime pay for city police, fire, public works and other staff members as well as repairs to city-owned property.

Finance Director Victoria Bateman estimated the removal of some 40,000 cubic yards of debris by Waste Pro, the city’s contractor for collection and disposal, will cost $680,000 plus tipping fees and an estimated $30,000 in repairs to the Pelican Sports Complex. The city’s contract with Waste Pro calls for disaster debris removal, but no dollar figure is attached. Szerlag said that while Waste Pro’s fee might be higher than some other proposals, but the standing contract will facilitate the cleanup process and possibly save the city money down the road.

Council cautioned staff to closely monitor and document the expenditures in case it’s needed to apply for state or federal disaster funds. Council Member Rana Erbrick suggested a not-to-exceed cap equal to the city’s estimate be placed on the expenses before staff would have to bring any additional costs back for approval.

Council unanimously followed Erbrick’s suggestion in order to get the cleanup going as quickly as possible.

Fire Chief Donald Cochran praised the work done by his department personnel as well as other city responders during the weekend disaster, including their interactions with the public shaken by the weather intrusion into their lives.

“I was very impressed with the work our staff did through the tornado,” said Cochran. “I have not had one complaint. Everyone I’ve talked to is pleased with the response. We had the Red Cross and Salvation Army down there along with the sheriff’s and emergency management personnel.”

Mayor Marni Sawicki, Sheriff Mike Scott and Gov. Rick Scott all toured the area.

The latest figures on the destruction were presented to council by Jesse Spearo, division manager of the Cape’s Emergency Management office. He said it was determined that peak winds reached 133 mph along a 3.4-mile stretch of the city from Sands Boulevard near Beach Parkway east to Pelican Boulevard and Mowhawk Parkway. The EF2 rated storm winds would be equal to a Category 4 hurricane.

The storm affected more than 200 homes, one of them completely destroyed and 19 others with major damage. Damage estimates to homes is estimated at more than $6.6 million.

One of the city’s utility lift stations was damaged in addition to facilities at the Pelican Sports Complex. The tornado was on the ground an estimated eight minutes, which is unusual for tornado activity in Florida. The path of destruction was almost 200 yards wide.

“There were a lot of donations of food and water from area businesses,” said Spearo. “A lot of volunteers helped remove debris. It was just an amazing outpouring of support by neighbors helping neighbors.”

More than 100 power poles were downed in addition to countless trees, road and traffic signs. Electric power was lost to more than 2,000 LCEC customers, but that figure was down to about 200 by Monday morning. Power will not be restored immediately to badly damaged structures until repairs are made.