Hurricane Irma leaves 90 percent of county with no power: ‘This one is going to take a while’

“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.”

He said 90 percent of Okeechobee County is without electricity.

“Power is going to be an issue for quite a while,” he said.

Throughout the county, damage assessments are underway. County emergency officials are working on search and rescue efforts and damage assessment.

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 pm Sunday.
• Maximum gust wind speed: SE 62 knots / 71 mph at 9:35 pm Sunday.
• Okeechobee experienced sustained Gale Force winds, 34-40 knots (39-46 mph), from 8:30 pm. Sunday to 1:15 a.m. Monday.
• Total rainfall: 16.50 inches including 3.79 inches on Saturday and 12.71 inches on Sunday.

According to the Emergency Operations Center 10:15 update:

• The Herbert Hoover Dike held. No damage has been reported to the dike. Mandatory evacuation has been lifted for Glades and Hendry Counties.

• All fire/rescue stations are operational.

• At 11 a.m., Irma had been downgraded to a tropical storm, with winds up to 65 mph. Storm surge warnings were still in effect from Florida/Georgia border to the Flager/Volusia County line.

• Some Okeechobee County dairies have roof damage. Fuel will be an issue for the dairies.

• Okeechobee County public schools will be closed on Tuesday.

• Okeechobee County’s curfew was lifted at 9 a.m. Monday. A decision about nightly curfews will be made today. With widespread power outages, power lines down and traffic signals out of operation, there are concerns about public safety.

• Raulerson Hospital is operational but it is running on generator power.

• Walmart will open today.

• Tornadoes were reported in the Lazy 7 area during the storm (Sunday night/Monday morning).

• A FEMA representative, Rupert Dennis, is in the area.

• The Red Cross shelter at Osceola Middle School has been closed. The shelter at South Elementary is still open for “rebound” evacuees who go home from the shelter today and find their homes not livable. Another shelter location will be found so that schools can reopen.

• All county ditch systems are operating at capacity. The county road department has crews out in every direction, working to clear the roads. The road department is working with FPL to get lines cut out of trees. They are focusing on the primary roads first, and then will go back and work on the side roads.

• County Road Department Director Pete DePasquale said two roads are closed due to flooding which eroded the base of the roads at culverts. Potter Road (NW 144th Drive) is closed at the culvert crossing west of U.S. Highway 441. (Potter Road is closed west of the greenhouses.) It will remain closed until the water slows enough for that area to be repaired. Cemetery Road (N.E. 304th St.) is closed at a culvert crossing east of U.S. 441. It will also be closed until the water slows enough for repairs to be made.

• South Florida Water Management District water control structures are operational.

• OUA reports some damage at the wastewater plant.

• Senior services is checking on clients. Power is out at the senior center.

• Approximately 19,000 FPL workers from 30 states are on their way to Florida to restore power. Statewide 4.2 million state customers lost powers with 3.6 million without power at 10 a.m. on Monday. About 90 percent of Okeechobee County has no power. The health department and Raulerson Hospital are on generators. Special crews have been out clearing wires. FPL is doing damage assessment today.

• Within the city limits, city police ask that drivers stay out of the neighborhoods. There are several large trees down. Traffic signals are also out. The main roads will be cleared first, so residents are asked to stay out of the residential areas (other than their own).

• Mayor Dowling Watford said “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.”

• City administrator Marcos Montes De Oca said flooding has not been an issue in the city limits. The biggest concern is the loss of traffic signals, he said. Some traffic signals are on the ground.

• The 911 system calls from cell phones are being transferred through Charlotte County.

• City offices will be open Tuesday.

• Drivers are reminded to watch out for downed power lines, and to use caution at all intersections because many traffic lights are out.

• Law enforcement has already had some complaints of thefts.

• The Okeechobee Airport airfield will be open today. There was no debris on the runway. The Landing Strip restaurant at the airport is closed until power is restored.

• Glades Electric has 2,790 outages in Okeechobee County and 2,940 outages in Glades County.

• Okeechobee County staffers will be workings (helping with storm recovery efforts) on Tuesday, but county offices will not be open to the public.

• Pubic safety crews report all of the major roads are clear, but there are a lot of areas in the county where there are downed power lines and power poles as well as debris on interior roadways. Residents are advised to avoid the side roads if possible until county crews can assess the situation. If you cannot avoid driving on the side roads, please use extreme caution.

• The call center at the Emergency Operations Center is still active. Call 863-824-6888 if you have any storm-related questions.

• Glades County has closed the shelter in Muse at West Glades School. A shelter is open at Maple Grove Baptist Church in Lakeport. Glades County Schools will not be open on Tuesday. Glades County offices will not be open on Tuesday.

• Glades County will have a curfew from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m.

Watch the Okeechobee News Facebook page for updates.


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