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Still paying the price: Hurricane Irma

By Staff | Sep 6, 2018

On Sept 10, 2017 Hurricane Irma made landfall over Florida, taking with it the lives of 84 people statewide, leaving millions without power and hundreds of thousands with property damage.

A Category 5 hurricane at its peak, Irma was the fifth costliest U.S. Atlantic Hurricane in history, with damages totaling $53.4 billion.

Lee County was hit hard by 100-plus mph winds and massive rainfall that led to flooding and power outages across the region.

County officials have learned a lot in the calendar year, trying to absorb as much information as they can and implementing what they’ve learned into future seasons.

“Every hurricane, every storm, every disaster we always learn something new. If we don’t learn, then we are not really doing our job,” said Lee County Emergency Management Director Lee Mayfield. “So taking all those components and lessons learned from Irma – some are really able to be applied really quickly. A lot we’ve already done.”

County spokesperson Betsy Clayton provided numbers attesting to the staggering costs from last year’s historic storm.

Countywide, commercial loss due to Irma totaled $102.4 million, residential loss totaled $725.9 million, as well as an additional $4.4 million in other loss.

Irma left behind 2,704,829.76 cubic yards of debris in her wake in unincorporated Lee County and the Village of Estero, costing $39,038,906.50 in removal costs.

Nearly 10,000 traffic signs and sign supports have been repaired, as well as 303 traffic signals.

Countless businesses were affected, many closing their doors for some time to deal with roof issues and lack of power.

All told, 2,996 Small Business Administration Loans were approved, totaling $117.7 million, with 75 Emergency Bridge Loans approved, totaling $3.1 million.

Southwest Florida homes were hit hard by Irma’s intense winds, deteriorating roofs and spewing shingles about.

A total of 12,175 roofing permits were issued from Sept. 11, 2017 to Aug. 23 of this year.

Flooding was another issue for Lee County residents, with some roadways deemed unusable for people looking to leave their house post-storm and retrieve additional supplies.

More than 36 miles of major drainage canals were cleared of debris after Irma.

Lee County has allocated $3 million in its 2018-2019 budget for flood remediation.

The City of Cape Coral was tasked with cleaning up 340,000 cubic yards of debris from its rights-of-way.

There were 25,000 cubic yards of construction and demolition in the city, as well as 164,800 cubic yards of debris from canals.

Irma downed 2,7000 trees, and killed many more in the process.

“Since Hurricane Irma made landfall one year ago, Cape Coral has made a strong and lasting recovery,” said Ryan Lamb, Cape Coral Fire Department Chief, who also oversees emergency management for the city. “In order to prepare for the next, inevitable storm, we have identified our strengths and are implementing changes to shore up our weaknesses. The City has worked hard over the last year with our community and regional partners to improve our resiliency and implement long-term mitigation initiatives. And, perhaps most importantly, we are striving to build the preparedness capacity of individuals within the community through education, outreach and training.”

Total debris removal totaled an estimated $14 million in the Cape, with response and administration costs totaling an estimated $4 million, bringing the grand total to a whopping $19 million in estimated costs as a result of Hurricane Irma.

City spokesperson Maureen Buice, who provided the information, said the city has not yet received any reimbursements from FEMA.

Seawalls took quite the blow as well, but it is unclear what the extent of the damages are.

“We do not know how many seawalls were damaged,” Buice said. “Since September of 2017, there have been 224 seawall permits issued but many of these are for new seawalls.”

Lee County has also been working hard on making sure its residents, as well as its employees, are more prepared this time around.

They county has also bolstered its shelter operations.

“Whatever the disaster may be, we’re broadening our reports. We always want to do better, whether it’s short, medium or long-term changes,” Mayfield said.

He added that the county is boosting its preparedness for staffing of first responders, making sure they and their families are safe and can get where they need to if a disaster occurs.

Many first responders have no choice to evacuate, as their duties require them to stay and be of service.

Last year, around 300,000 people evacuated while 14 shelters housed 35,000 Lee County residents, including 3,500 pets. There were two special needs shelters.

From the first shelter opening to the last shelter closing, they operated for six weeks and two days.

“We are paying special attention to our shelter operations and those who help us get them together,” Mayfield said.

“Our shelter decisions are based on the storm. We feel confident in our shelter locations no matter how many we need to open. We’re working on staffing, food, investing in generators, impact glass, square-footage and capacity,” Mayfield said.

Mayfield advises residents to have a plan to stay with a friend of family member, even a hotel, outside of an evacuation zone if you can.

Shelter opening information can be found at www.Leeeoc.com, as well as social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

“The more you prepare, the better your outcome,” Mayfield added.

He says to develop and talk through a family disaster plan and to build a disaster supply kit.

“You can print out our family emergency plan, where it has questions to help shape what your family should do if a disaster scenario was to occur on our website.”

Keeping records, making sure food and water is available for humans and pets alike, as well as getting any medicines in order are some things to add to your disaster supply kit according to Mayfield.

Staying up-to-date on the latest information is key as well.

“Knowledge is power in these situations.”

For hurricane preparedness tips, visit www.leegov.com/publicsafety or visit the hurricane guide posted to the Breeze website at cape-coral-daily-breeze.com

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj