Hurricane Irma leaves damage in its wake

Days after Hurricane Irma ripped through Central Florida, Winter Park residents and government officials still are evaluating the damage left in its wake.

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  • | 2:08 p.m. September 14, 2017
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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In the days leading up to Hurricane Irma’s Florida arrival on Sept. 10 and 11, Winter Park-area 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 Central Florida and over eastern Lake County and West Orange County. 

“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,” Orange County 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. Duke Energy had reported that out of its nearly 370,000 customers in Orange County, 208,000 had lost power during the storm. 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.”

In Winter Park, Mayor Steve Leary said the local government has been responding as quickly as possible since crews have been able to get out and assess damages.

“Within the first night after the hurricane, we restored 4,300 customers out of — I think we had 10 to 11,000 people out — so we restored almost half of our outages within the first 24 hours of our crews being back out,” Leary said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 4,700 Winter Park Electric customers still were without power — about one-third of the utility customers in the city. City officials estimated full restoration won’t take place until early next week. 

Leary also said although overall damage costs were not yet known, the city will take the time to ensure damages to buildings and other issues are assessed carefully.

The storm also brought issues of water safety in a couple of spots in Winter Park — specifically Park North, Clay Street and Gilbert Road, where the city placed a boil water alert for residents in the area. 

Donahue Johnson trimmed some loose branches on the tree outside of his mother’s home.
Donahue Johnson trimmed some loose branches on the tree outside of his mother’s home.

Irma presented a  threat to one of the city’s biggest concerns — preserving the tree canopy. Following the storm, streets in and around the area have been clogged with fallen branches and trees, but it could have been much worse, Leary said.

“The tree damage we have seen is nowhere near any past incidences we’ve had in Winter Park, and that’s due in large part to the Urban Forestry Management Plan — which kind of created that proactive plan to manage our canopy,” Leary said.

Part of the UFMP is to monitor for trees that need to come down because of their condition. Before the hurricane, trees that were on the list were either trimmed or taken down.

Since the storm, the city has received 297 reports of trees and limbs being down in the right of ways throughout the area, as forestry crews continue to clean up the roadways. As of press time Wednesday, most properties are now accessible; Leary said he expects to have everything cleaned by Monday, Sept. 18. He also noted he took a drive to assess damage with City Manager Randy Knight and admired Winter Park residents’ willingness to help their fellow neighbors.

“We saw families out working with one another, neighbors helping one another,” Leary said. “People walked up to our car and said, ‘Hey we are just out here clearing the road for you guys, so you can get through and get to where you need to get to.’ We’re really fortunate to live in the community where we do.”

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. 


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