Sanibel Mayor Ruane: ‘Come together, work together’
Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane encourages the island community to do what they do best in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, “come together, work together and try to have a little bit of patience and compassion” until things get back to normal.
“I hope and pray that people stay together and don’t let their anxiety, or their expectations, block, or interfere with us coming together,” he said. “That is my hope. I am glad that the community is safe. It will get better every day.”
Although the curfew has been lifted for the island, Ruane encourages people to keep the roads as open as possible.
“The more open the roadways can be, the easier it is to have the backloaders and chippers and everything to navigate through. Whatever we can do to recognize that the recovery will only be quicker if everyone works with us. Take and get whatever you need that is essential. Perhaps be just a little bit more patient and we can recover a lot quicker,”Ruane said.
Many of the businesses on the island were still boarded, homeowners continued to check damage to their home and property, and vegetation was still being trimmed Tuesday morning after the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Sanibel Sea School Executive Director Dr. Bruce Neill said their flagship campus on Periwinkle Way suffered roof damage. He was unsure if there was any damage to the solar panels.
“In the next 30 days people are going to have to be grateful that they are alive, grateful their property is intact and try to be as patient as they can because this is a storm that will probably go down in history with the most property damage,” Ruane said. “Not only property damage from the wind, but also storm surge in the state of Florida.”
He said his team did a great job in regard to preparation with contractors, as well as coordinate pre-storm with all of their partners ranging from LCEC to the local nonprofits on the island.
“The things that we were able to do I’m extremely proud of, the staff and everything they have been able to do,” Ruane said. “I think we did a great job preparing for it. People need to realize that we don’t control the power, the sewer, or the water. There are a lot of things outside of our control. People want specific answers, and I can’t provide that. We are doing the best we can. We are working with our partners. Be grateful. Three, or four days ago, I didn’t think we would have an island to come back to. We are here and all things considered, we are very, very, very fortunate and lucky.”
Tuesday morning, Ruane received a notice from IWA that there are several leaks and breaches in the system, causing the island’s water to be shut off completely. He said they had already issued a boil notice prior to receiving the notice because they did not know the cleanliness of the water following the hurricane.
The loss of vegetation – massive trees – has been a big issue in the clean-up after the storm.
“I had one that fell on our water line at home. It’s about a 35-foot fishtail tree. It was my neighbors. It fell fortunately on a water line, and not on my home. So, when we talk about vegetation, vegetation is small trees, large trees and massive trees,” Ruane said. “That has always been our problem here on Sanibel. We obviously preserve nature. We are big on the serenity, but during the storm they are not our friends.”
The downed vegetation not only blocked roadways, and the shared use path, but also caused the loss of roofs.
“There has been structure damage, not only infrastructure, but damage to the property,” Ruane said.
Based on what people shared, 60 mph winds swept through the island. Ruane believes that number is very inaccurate based on the damage. The size of the trees that were uprooted, he said were most likely taken down with a lot stronger of winds.
“I would guess that we had 90 mph gusts,” Ruane said.
Periwinkle Place Property Manager Ken Huggins was surveying his property for the first time Tuesday morning assessing the damage. He already had some crews together to take care of the smaller trees.
“We started at about 8 a.m this morning. They are getting the small stuff, to get it out of the road,” he said.
Although the shopping plaza’s sign was down, as well as many trees, Huggins said as far as he could tell they had no structural, or roof damage.
One of the popular trees, the Charley Brown tree, which Chico’s purchased quite a few years ago for a Christmas tree, gets beat up with every storm that comes through. Huggins said he was unsure if they could save the tree this time.
Ruane said the problem with Hurricane Irma was that it had two circles.
“The first circle was the wind event and the back circle was the rain event and the storm surge. That’s why we called a special meeting on Thursday (Sept. 7). Our concern was the storm surge,” Ruane said.
His guess was they had about three to four feet of storm surge, which was much better than what was predicted.
“Unfortunately our sister cities Marco and Naples took our water. When it came out of our system it went some place. When it did that sweep, it actually took all the water out of the canals and the bay. It was actually dry,” Ruane said. “It blew unfortunately south. When high tide came in, there wasn’t enough in the system to create the havoc that we thought.”
He said his heart goes out to Marco Island and Naples.
“Anyone who has 15 foot storm surge, you are now trying to preserve life at this point of time,” Ruane said. “My heart and prayers go out to Naples and Marco. I couldn’t imagine what they are going through.”
The city had boots on the ground before daylight Monday at 6 a.m. The county and core members of the City of Sanibel inspected the bridge. He said that was the first protocol after the storm, a call made from the governor of Florida.
“At 7 a.m. we had eyes starting to do assessments of what took place,” he said. “It was really the preparation plan that we had in place. We had contractors set up obviously knowing that we needed people to move massive trees, chippers and things of that nature. We had them ready to go before the storm.”
Dr. Bruce Neill, executive director of the Sanibel Sea School, has been a member of the Community Emergency Response Team for the past seven, or eight years. It was not until Monday, Sept. 11 that he was called to provide a helping hand.
“This is really the first time I have done anything with them,” he said.
Neill, and a young man, used chainsaw’s and their truck to clear downed tree limbs from side streets on the east end of Sanibel, while the city response crews cleared the main roadways.
“We cleared all the streets from Lighthouse Way to the other side of Beach Road, on either side of Periwinkle,” he said. “We moved a lot of stuff. I hope that our efforts to clear the secondary streets helped. It took some pressure off of those guys, so they could continue to do the main road-fares, allowing people to get out of their houses, or get to their houses. A lot of the places where the trees were too big, or too extensive, we cut a one way lane.”
While clearing vegetation, Neill said they noticed that the flag at the four-way stop had come off of it’s rope during the storm.
“We got to raise the flag. That was pretty cool. I think that was a good thing,” he said.
LCEC and IWA, the city’s partners, have been working together to make sure they are aware of the power lines that are down. Ruane said when the electric goes out, the wires are not live, but when turned on they have to be very careful that they are not hot, especially around water.
Ruane’s best understanding is that on the main power grid, Casa Ybel up to Periwinkle Way, as well as some spots on Tarpon Bay Road – Bailey’s and 7-11 had power. The power continued up Sanibel-Captiva Road to the Sanibel School.
“That leg is up. The process they go through, they test lines here and later on in the day they actually activate when they know that it is safe. So it’s not going to be uncommon for people to get power in the evening. Last night was the first time that power went on. Every night I think they can look forward to having power, but I just can’t make promises to who gets what. There is a lot of speculation, if there was actually favoritism, my power would be up, and I don’t have power. People want to know why Bailey’s is up, it’s the grid that they are in and it’s one of the major grids they have to put up because of the school,” Ruane said.
Gov. Rick Scott has given updates to the Florida League of Mayors, which Ruane is a member of, with a daily conference call. He said the problem discussed is the magnitude of the power outages, gas and supplies.
“We have 67 counties in the state, and in our little county, Lee County, we have six cities. When you think of an average of five, with 67, you are talking about 335 cities and I know there are more, because I know there are 413 cities in the state of Florida. It’s my understanding that 60 to 70 percent of them don’t have power,” Ruane said.
As far as gas, he said there is supply showing up at the ports of Tampa Bay and Fort Lauderdale.
Before the storm hit, the RECON team went door-to-door telling people they need to leave during the mandatory evacuation.
“By and large most people said yes they would. I do know people had stayed here. But, after a particular point in time we can dedicate all the resources necessary, but I can’t convince people to do something they don’t want to,” he said. “I was very happy with the effort that everyone made and people by and large followed our advice,” Ruane said.
Prior to the storm, City Hall was moved to Crowne Plaza at Bell Tower, and core city staff hunkered down in North Fort Myers with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
“We were able to have our staff, and our brain there,” Ruane said. “The admin people went to Crowne Plaza and the key people went to North Fort Myers.”
He said as of Tuesday afternoon they were on their 14th update post Hurricane Irma to share information with the community. About two dozen were sent out before the hurricane.
“The job was really to try to get the information out as quickly as we could to the community,” Ruane said. “I think we did a phenomenal job with the resources we had. It’s kind of hard to deploy your information when your working out of shelter than has limited electricity. I’m very happy.”