Here Comes Irma
The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council met in emergency session on Wednesday morning, September 6, to declare a State of Local Emergency and outline preparation and recovery plans, should Category 5 Hurricane Irma hit Southwest Florida. Council member Joanne Shamp is on an excused absence.
Council unanimously passed the Declaration of the State of Local Emergency. “This is necessary to promote public safety and make the Town eligible for potential FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) reimbursement,” explained Mayor Dennis Boback. The Declaration states there is no Town mandatory evacuation or curfew at this time; the Town Manager is the official in charge of implementing the emergency and disaster ordinances, including the use all Town employees and volunteers to secure private property; with this in place until terminated by Council.
“The Bay Oaks Recreation Center and Pool, Mound House and Newton Park will close at the end of today until further notice,” reported Town Manager Roger Hernstadt, “with the Matanzas Harbor Mooring Field under voluntary evacuation. When the Lee County Emergency Operations Center (LCEOC) issues a Hurricane Watch that switches to mandatory. All beach equipment must be off by Friday noon. Crews are removing construction dumpsters or are covering them so stuff does not become flying projectiles. Once there is a Hurricane Watch, you can no longer park on the streets but must park in your driveway. If there is a mandatory evacuation, the Town will suspend government services on Friday at 4:30 p.m., with a significant reduction after the storm. See the Town website for updates, as the Mayor will issue the latest information daily at 2:30 p.m., following that of the Lee County EOC at 2. Follow at leeeoc.com.”
Hernstadt laid out reentry regulations: “Everybody remembers Hurricane Charley and the problems they had getting back on the island. Before anyone can return, the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District, Town Manager and Mayor will assess conditions to make sure it is OK. At that time, we will only allow residents and business owners with purple reentry passes and a form of identification to inspect their property. It is not our intention to keep anyone off more than absolutely necessary, and to get residents back on as soon as humanly possible. I hope everyone takes to heart that this is a pretty bad storm – one of the biggest in the history of the Atlantic Ocean – when you make your determination to stay or leave.”
He reported there was sand available to the public directly behind Town Hall, but that was gone by Wednesday evening, with no guarantee of any additional amounts. If more arrives, you must provide your own bags, with pillow cases or garbage bags excellent substitutes; for availability see www.fmbgov.com.
The Safest Way to Sit Out This Storm
“Once winds reach 40 miles-per-hour, we clear the island (pull all personnel) and no longer respond to 911 calls,” explained Chief Matthew Love of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District. “As the storm intensifies, we will phase our personnel off the island, then phase back on as quickly as possible when conditions are safe.” “If you stay,” reminded Mayor Boback, “there is no Emergency Medical Service, no sheriff, or no Town departments, so you are on our own, so hunker down, but my advice is to leave. That is the safest way to sit out this storm.”
Council member Anita Cereceda suggested the Town cancel all its September Advisory Committee meetings, with her colleagues in agreement. She then inquired about Town permitting, to begin reconstruction as soon as safely possible. “Come to Town Hall with a written statement and/or photos of what you intend to replace,” said the Town Manager. “We will work with Lee County to issue over-the-counter-type permits to begin work immediately.”
Cereceda asked when business owners could have their employees return to restore normal services, as they receive just three employee reentry passes. “In the immediate aftermath, we really do not want them here,” he replied. ”We hope to restore service as quickly as possible; until then, we want to restrict the island to residents and business owners. We will have a Town employee with Sheriff’s officers at the entry points to assist in judgement calls and unique cases.”
Council member Bruce Butcher asked about Florida Power & Electric. “FPL can turn off all the power to the island if they deem it too dangerous,” reported the Town Manager. “In all likelihood, there will be no power for a day or week or weeks or possibly worse. I understand it is the natural reaction for people to deal with this right away, but the public has to help us out.” Butcher asked if a radio is still the best communications fallback: “Everyone should have a portable radio in their emergency kit,” related the Town Manager, “with batteries for a minimum of 72 hours after the storm, should the Internet and cell towers go down.”
Heroes in Green & White
Hernstadt worked for Dade County when Hurricane Andrew ravaged that area a quarter-century ago; he not only led the recovery effort, but lost his own home. “As someone who personally went through this,” he offered, “pack up whatever you need, like photos and insurance policies and things that mean a lot to you that you cannot replace easily. Losing your furniture and property is bad, but you can replace that. Gather any papers or plans to your house and photographs of your items, as those are essential to restoring your property. If you are in doubt about something, take it!”
Then, in pointing to the Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters in the audience, Hernstadt said that “we have a lot of heroes here today wearing green & white, and we don’t need any more heroes. Take care of your family and yourself!”
“Roger has been through this before,” concluded Gore, “and I have the confidence that he will get us through this,” with Council adjourned at 9:52 a.m.