Armed with two chainsaws, a pole saw and, of course, one machete, five Independence residents made sure their fellow neighbors were able to get in and out of their neighborhood just hours after Hurricane Irma tore through the community.
After seeing downed trees blocking three of the community’s main thoroughfares, Christopher Lyon, Shannon Denham, Jane and Paul Reynolds and Alejandro Diaz armed themselves with the necessary tools to clear the paths.
“(It was) tough work, but these people just showed up, and we took care of it,” Lyon said. “It was an awesome display of what this community is all about.”
Residents in other communities throughout Horizon West displayed similar neighborly behavior — assisting one another with clean-up efforts to scrape away the evidence of perhaps the area’s longest, most-sleepless night.
In the days leading up to Hurricane Irma’s Florida arrival Sept. 10 and 11, West Orange residents were preparing — but not panicking. Meteorologists projected the storm first to come up Florida’s East Coast and later revised that to the state’s West Coast.
However, it wasn’t until hours before Irma’s Central Florida arrival just after midnight that the prediction changed yet again — with the eye coming closer to eastern Lake County and West Orange. The storm’s path placed its most-damaging northeast-quadrant winds near Winter Garden, Oakland, Ocoee, Windermere and Horizon West.
“Based on our preliminary assessments coming in this morning, the damage from this storm appears to be far greater than what we experienced with Hurricane Charley in 2004,” Mayor Teresa Jacobs said in a press conference Monday morning.
The storm — a Category 2 hurricane with up to 100-mph wind gusts when it ripped through Central Florida — knocked out power for nearly 400,000 residents in Orange County (and as many as 15 million statewide). Duke Energy had reported that out of its nearly 370,000 customers in Orange County, 208,000 had lost power during the storm, with nearly 67,000 of those outages being reported in West Orange. Orlando Utilities Commission Vice President of Marketing Roseanne Harrington predicted the outage will be “the largest utility restoration and rebuild project in the history of the United States.”
The town of Windermere suffered significant tree damage as well as downed power lines.
“We estimate over 100 trees fell, and we had three complete road closures, including Main Street, Lake Butler Boulevard and Park Avenue,” Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn said. “The problem is the tree company can’t get the trees out of there because they’re all wrapped up in power lines, so we’ve got to wait for Duke to de-energize them to remove the trees, but I’m hoping we’ll have that done soon.”
Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson said his city experienced similar damage.
“It’s mostly just a lot of trees down, got tree damage to some houses,” he said. “(City staff) is driving around doing an assessment of all the damage right now to see what the problems are, but you got to be careful driving around here and watch for power lines. The power’s out all over. My area is out, but on the north side of town, most of the power is in.”
In Oakland, the storm damaged power lines that service Oakland’s water treatment plant, but Mike Parker, Public Works director, said there was no loss of water or pressure because of the town’s back-up system.
He stayed all night at the Orange County Fire Station in Oakland so he could be available in case of an emergency. He was out early Tuesday morning to assess the damage.
“We had only minor flooding, and all the retention ponds are full, but the damage could have been a lot worse,” Parker said.
The county also opened 21 shelters, including locations at West Orange and Ocoee high schools and Gotha and Lakeview middle schools. According to Orange County Public Information Officer Doreen Overstreet, about 4,300 residents and 200 pets took refuge in the shelters countywide.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs placed a countywide curfew from 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, to 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11. Orange County Public Schools has been closed since Friday, Sept. 8. District officials said they hope to reopen schools Monday, Sept. 18.
Orange County reported that 911 dispatch centers received 1,381 calls between midnight and 5:45 a.m. on Monday morning.
ORLO VISTA FLOODED
Orange County Fire Rescue and the National Guard rescued 149 people from 550 homes in the Orlo Vista community. The flooding came fast and furious in that neighborhood, with some of the homes taking on water by 9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10.
As rains continued to drench Central Florida overnight, more than 149 residents in the Orlo Vista area of Pine Hills reported extensive flooding to homes in excess of several feet. According to the agency’s Twitter account, an estimated 550 homes were affected by the flooding near the intersection of South Kirkman Road and Old Winter Garden Road.
Overnight and throughout Monday morning, both Orange County Fire Rescue and the Florida National Guard were called in to rescue the residents of that area.
Orange County Fire Chief Otto Drozd III said the agency would make sure everyone in the area would be evacuated to nearby shelters.
“We’re prepared to go out and be the resource for the community to start bringing some normalcy back to their lives,” he said.
DANIEL’S STAYS OPEN FOR CUSTOMERS
At Daniel’s Cheesesteak, it all started with ice. The restaurant had its ice machine cranking for days prior to Irma, resulting in dozens of extra bags of ice ready to go.
“We saw the need for essentials; unfortunately, we couldn’t provide water, but we (had) plenty (of) ice, bread and canned goods,” said Frankie Liz, vice president of sales and marketing for Daniel’s Cheesesteak.
People were lined up around the building and placing orders over the phone.
“We didn’t realize that it was just us and Wawa open that day, which caused a line wrapped around the store of folks getting ice, bread, rice or canned goods, along with dairy,” he said.
While Liz ran the register, Lotto and hot and warm foods, his wife, Adriana, took orders. His parents, Harold and Mercedes, and brother Brian cooked in the kitchen.
“It was a very accomplished feeling at the end knowing we contributed to help the community by either giving them great comfort food or last-minute cold cuts, ice, dairy or essentials needed for the storm,” he said. “We would do it all over again if we could.”