Community cleans up damage from Irma

OKEECHOBEE — The morning after Hurricane Irma hit the Okeechobee area, those in the Okeechobee County Emergency Operations Center were remembering another Sept. 11.

“We fared pretty well last night, considering what happened on the coast and considering what happened to the Keys,” Okeechobee Emergency Management Director Mitch Smeykal said Monday, Sept. 11.

“Sixteen years ago today, right about this time, everybody’s life changed. We got through that.

“We got through 2004. We got through 2005. We will get through this one too. But it is going to take time,” Mr. Smeykal said. “This one is going to take a while.”

The following Irma storm data is compiled from the AWOS meteorological observations at the Okeechobee County Airport:

  • Closest point of approach of the storm center to Okeechobee, about 50 miles west, occurred at approximately 10 p.m. Sunday.
  • Lowest surface pressure at Okeechobee was 980.9 mb from 9:15 to 10:15 p.m. Sunday.
  • Maximum sustained wind speed: SE 40 knots/ 46 mph at 9:35 p.m. Sunday.
  • Maximum gust wind speed: SE 62 knots/ 71 mph at 9:35 p.m. Sunday.
  • Okeechobee experienced sustained Gale Force winds, 34-40 knots (39-46 mph), from 8:30 p.m. Sunday to 1:15 a.m. Monday.
  • Total rainfall: 16.50 inches including 3.79 inches on Saturday and 12.71 inches on Sunday.

On Monday morning, 90 percent of Okeechobee County was without electricity. By Tuesday morning 7,500 customers had power restored, with 10,826 still out. As of Tuesday morning, Glades Electric had 2,790 outages in Okeechobee County and 2,940 outages in Glades County.

Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen has put a curfew in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The curfew will expire on Friday morning. The sheriff said they hope sufficient power will be restored that they will not need curfews after that. A decision about extending the curfew, if necessary, will be made Friday morning. No alcohol sales will be allowed during curfew hours.

The Herbert Hoover Dike held. No damage was reported to the dike.

Okeechobee County public schools were closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. School officials hope to open schools as soon as power is restored.

On Tuesday, County Road Department Director Pete DePasquale said all the roads have been cleared of debris.

“The help from the community was incredible,” he said. “In every neighborhood, when road department crews arrived, people were already out with chainsaws helping to clear tree limbs from the roads.”

He said OUA helped with clearing the roads, and FPL crews responded quickly to areas with downed wires or wires caught in debris.

“FPL knocked it out of the park helping us,” he said.

As of Tuesday morning, only one road was closed. Potter Road (N.W. 144th Drive) is closed at the culvert crossing west of U.S. Highway 441 (west of the greenhouses.) That road was a “washout” with floodwaters eroding the soil around a culvert.

According to Mayor Dowling Watford, in the city limits, “Riverbend Park is probably our worst damage, with a lot of carports and aluminum everywhere. I have to commend our public works department and city police department and city administrator.”

Those with damage to their homes can use a damage assessment link (available on the Emergency Operations Center Facebook page and Twitter feed) to input the information online rather than call. The online damage assessment form allows the homeowner to include photos taken with a cell phone.

Okeechobee Utility Authority reports the OUA water is safe to drink. Well water should be safe unless you had standing water over the well head.

Raulerson Hospital is open and has power restored.

Waste Management resumed their regular garbage pickups Tuesday.

“We got lucky,” said Mr. Smeykal on Tuesday, noting that had the storm turned north sooner, Okeechobee County would have taken a direct hit.

“Okeechobee County residents need to count their blessings,” he said. The county had no storm-related fatalities.

“People further south are a lot worse off than we are,” he said.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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