The town of Windermere is recovering after Hurricane Ian swept across the Central Florida area.
Windermere mayor Jim O’Brien said the town is focused on its response goals of rapid re-establishment of town critical lifelines and repair of infrastructure and services.
Although the town currently is still working on clean up efforts and restoring power to all residents, Town Manager Robert Smith said the town hopes to be back to normal operations by the end of next week.
“The biggest resource we need right now is patience from our residents,” Smith said. “We weren’t the only ones impacted, but pretty much the entire state was impacted by this major hurricane, so we’re working with our contractors, we’re working with our public works staff, our police department and internal staff to make sure everything is cleaned up.”
Town staff and the Windermere Police Department took to the streets the day after the storm to conduct an initial damage inspection.
O’Brien said the preliminary damage assessment included beginning to establish access to the town for emergency services, staff and contractors for tree removal, and power line safety.
Although the town had a significant amount of power lines and trees down with multiple road closures, home structures and parks with damage, and widespread power loss, Smith said there have been no reports of injuries or deaths, which is key.
Windermere resident Tiffany Regalado, who lives in the Keene’s Pointe area, said although Hurricane Ian was the worst hurricane she had ever personally been in, having been in Florida for almost 37 years, there was no major damage to the area.
“When you look at what happened down south, we have a lot to be grateful for,” she said.
Regalado said she and her family spent the weekend picking up debris, and although the family experienced no loss of power, others in the neighborhood did.
Smith said two major trunk lines for the town, one at Sixth Avenue and one at Lake Butler Boulevard and Main Street, were impacted and took out almost the entire town’s power.
“While our community has experienced significant impacts, we are most concerned about the catastrophic damages, suffering and loss of life that we all know occurred to our fellow Floridians in Southwest Florida,” O’Brien said.
Although power is still being worked on, as of Monday, Oct. 3, at noon, 99% of electrical power has been reestablished, all main roadways are open, and secondary trees and roadways have been prioritized for clearing, according to the town’s mayor.
O’Brien stated that the town is in day three of emergency debris removal and all yard waste is being picked up and transported to the town debris management site.
All town parks are closed until public works staff can conduct a safety inspection in order to assess and repair any damages to docks, playground equipment, fences and other associated infrastructure.
The town manager said he cannot thank Duke Energy and its contractors enough for coming out and working for two to three days to get the major lines taken care of.
“The town is up and running thanks to the great teamwork between the energy companies and our town vendors,” David Ogden, Windermere police chief said, agreeing. “There is still clean up and work to be done and we should feel blessed when we see the devastation of our Florida families elsewhere. We offer our prayers to those in south Florida who were devastated. This is a time for others to step up and be the community we all want to be.”
The chief said the town has been championing a “No Wake Lake” zone with its counterparts in the county government throughout the weekend.
“Water levels are extremely high and docks are still underwater and wakes from boats are causing more damage,” Ogden explained.
The chief also said public boat ramps are closed in the county and the town of Windermere to help the cause.
“Recreational boats creating wakes only exacerbate the problem,” he said. “Please use idle speed if you need to go on the waterway.”
O’Brien said one of the major factors in the progress of town recovery was the ability to have town staff and police remain within town during the storm.
“With the completion of our new town facilities, all essential staff were available to respond to emergency calls and compile damage reports in real-time,” he said. “This allowed us to assess damages and bring in required contractors and staff much quicker than in past storms. Additionally, we focused on pushing information out to all residents to keep everyone informed before, during and after the storm. We will continue to address damages and prepare required documentation for insurance and Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement requests. Our goal is to be better each and every storm -- preparation is the key to a quicker recovery.”
The Sleep in Heavenly Peace Bunk Bed Build, set to occur Saturday, Oct. 8 at Town Square Park, will still be taking place.
“I would like to thank all of our residents for preparing and lending a hand to their neighbors in need as well as all of our town staff, public works, administration, police department and town contractors for doing such a great job at this important stage of our recovery,” the mayor said.