Monday, May 21, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando commission wants faster debris pickup after next hurricane

BROOKSVILLE — For Hernando County residents, Hurricane Irma already is the stuff of stories, repair bills and mental notes to buy batteries and bottled water at the start of storm season this year.

But for those who ran the storm response, including about 40 officials with Hernando County Emergency Management, government workers, school district employees and volunteers, this is the time to critique what worked and what didn’t.

The first draft of the After Action/Improvement Plan by Emergency Management details where more training, better equipment, more coordination and discussion can improve future storm responses.

Among the suggestions were:

• Expanding available space for pet-friendly shelters.

• A more coordinated public information message.

• Weather monitoring at the Emergency Operations Center.

• Improving procedures for the special needs shelter.

• Examining the sand bag distribution process.

• Increasing capacity for phone calls and expanding wireless availability.

Better training for those involved in the emergency response, and better planning for resources — from communications devices and generators to non-perishable shelter supplies and fuel — also were recommended.

A top priority for county commissioners is faster and more efficient clean up of storm debris. In the weeks after the storm, they heard plenty from constituents about piles of branches, trunks, leaves and construction debris sitting ignored on front yards for too long.

Irma was the first storm since Hernando County took over emergency operations from the Sheriff’s Office last February. The County Commission made that choice after criticism about the warning system and the immediate response when Hurricane Hermine brushed Hernando County in 2016, causing coastal flooding.

Hernando County administrator Len Sossamon said Irma was the biggest challenge the county faced last year.

"She turned our months of September and October into a tempestuous season of survival against some of the greatest storm-related challenges our county has faced in decades,’’ he told the Times.

"While Hernando’s Gulf Coast was spared the damage from winds and storm surge produced a year earlier by Hurricane Hermine," he said, "Irma gave Hernando County the greatest flood challenge it has faced since 2004 when the Withlacoochee River rose to the level of 16.55 feet.

This year, the Withlacoochee River rose to a flood level of 17.67 feet, and it remained at flood stage for six weeks.’’

That made Hurricane Irma’s aftermath the fifth-worse river flooding in Hernando County’s history.

The all-time high flood level was reached in 1934 when the Withlacoochee rose to 20.38 feet, Sossamon noted.

Adding to discomfort in the community, power was out for days or longer after Irma for many residents, roads were closed and finding gas was a challenge. The arrival of food in grocery stores and opening of fast-food outlets prompted excitement from hungry residents tired of canned tuna and snack food.

Communication among local, state and regional emergency managers and weather forecasters, as well as adequate public information, were cited as strengths in the storm response critique. .

The draft plan will become complete after agency representatives provide their own written input, county officials said.

Sossamon praised his staff and community partners for the many hours they worked together in the storm. They "handled an extremely trying time with a great deal of calm and composure," he said

He also complimented local school leaders, workers and volunteers. Because of their efforts, "we sheltered more than 6,000 evacuees during the hurricane, the greatest number in our history. The previous high was during Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 when 1,434 evacuees were housed.’’

Irma was an extraordinary storm spreading damage throughout the state, but Sossamon said the county can do better with debris collection next time by having more contractors lined up ahead of time. Hermine left the county with 10,000 cubic yards of debris, he said, but Irma left behind 120,000.

"Overall,’’ Sossamon said, "we learned that we can never be prepared enough.’’

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

Comments
Stunkel, Bulls enter AAC tourney on offensive surge

Stunkel, Bulls enter AAC tourney on offensive surge

While pitching depth remains the ultimate prerequisite for winning a baseball tournament at any level, steady bats also are handy.And few are on a hitting tear like USF veteran Duke Stunkel Jr.A senior outfielder, Stunkel (.347, 16 doubles, 23 RBIs) ...
Updated: 2 minutes ago
A man punched a pregnant, deaf mother and her service dog on a plane, police say

A man punched a pregnant, deaf mother and her service dog on a plane, police say

A man is accused of attacking a deaf couple and their service dog while they were travelling on a plane headed toward Orlando.The incident happened as Matthew Silvay, 30, and Hazel Ramirez, 21, were on Frontier Flight 1752 as it left Colorado Springs...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Less than one year after historic flooding, Alafia River spills its banks again

Less than one year after historic flooding, Alafia River spills its banks again

TAMPA — It’s not even hurricane season yet but flood-weary residents along the Alafia River in Lithia are already driving through submerged streets and anxiously watching rainfall forecasts.The river, which reached historic flood levels during Hurric...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Rains swell Tampa Bay rivers as forecasters monitor system in Caribbean

Rains swell Tampa Bay rivers as forecasters monitor system in Caribbean

More tropical showers and thunderstorms could be headed to Tampa Bay as a low pressure system that is developing in Western Caribbean waters is expected to track up through the Gulf of Mexico, promising more rain for an already soggy region. Much lik...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
New Port Richey man charged with sexual battery of 10-year-old

New Port Richey man charged with sexual battery of 10-year-old

PORT RICHEY — A New Port Richey man accused of sexually battering a 10-year-old girl last year was arrested Friday, according the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. Elias Barreiro, 23, was charged with sexual battery on a child under 12, deputies said. D...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top 5 at noon: Longtime Pinellas commissioner dies; Stroud and Jones on Game 6; and more

Top 5 at noon: Longtime Pinellas commissioner dies; Stroud and Jones on Game 6; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com:LONGTIME PINELLAS COUNTY COMMISSIONER JOHN MORRONI LOSES CANCER FIGHT AT 63Eighteen-year Pinellas County commissioner John Morroni died Sunday night while fighting his third battle against ca...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Restaurant review: Baytenders Raw Bar & Steamer is a low-key, friendly spot to gather

Restaurant review: Baytenders Raw Bar & Steamer is a low-key, friendly spot to gather

ST. PETERSBURGBrian Storman has had a long and colorful career in the Tampa Bay area. In the 1980s he had the insanely popular Storman’s Palace in Feather Sound, which in 2008 became the grownup playground "ultralounge" called the Venue (25,000 squar...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school leaders call it courtesy busing, but to Lauren Hawkins it’s more a matter of life and death.More students living close to their schools in the Westchase community used the Hillsborough school district’s courtesy bus...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Lightning one win from Stanley Cup final

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Lightning one win from Stanley Cup final

The Lightning plays in Washington tonight with a chance to close out the series and advance to the Stanley Cup final. Tom Jones joins Rick Stroud to talk about the game and why Andrei Vasilevskiy and the defense is playing so well.Plus, the...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Neighbors renew objections to altered New Port Richey homeless plan

Neighbors renew objections to altered New Port Richey homeless plan

NEW PORT RICHEY – The audience was color coded. Neighbors opposing a family homeless shelter and service center wore red T-shirts. Advocates who believed the proposal had become too diluted and benefitted the wrong people dressed in lavender or purpl...
Updated: 1 hour ago