Monday, February 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Beach cities assess what Hurricane Irma left behind

MADEIRA BEACH — Hurricane Irma's last-minute eastward shift will be celebrated here with a public champagne party with all the fixings and a large electronic screen showing the "sights and sounds" of the storm and its aftermath.

Just when that party will be held is largely dependent on getting power back to City Hall, acting City Manager and Fire Chief Derryl O'Neal explained Tuesday.

"A resident told me she was tired of the city bickering over little stuff and that we should celebrate coming together. I thought it was a great idea," said O'Neal, who plans to announce the date on Facebook (facebook.com/Madeira BeachFD/).

• • •

During the storm, Amanda and Tripp Baldwin decided not to evacuate their recently built Madeira Beach home they describe as a "concrete fortress" 18 feet about sea level.

"Leaving didn't make sense," Amanda said, adding that after serving in Iraq, the storm just did not scare her.

The couple also hosted Gene Anderson, the father of a relative's friend.

Anderson stayed through Tuesday morning so he could celebrate his 83rd birthday with the Baldwins.

• • •

St. Pete Beach Commissioner Rick Falkenstein, who co-manages his family's Hurricane restaurant on Pass-a-Grille, evacuated his home and took his family to a hotel in Lakeland, just to find that Irma had followed him.

"This is the second time I have been caught like this," he said, jokingly describing himself as a "hurricane magnet."

• • •

Harry Metz, a longtime St. Pete Beach resident and former commissioner, evacuated to join about 1,500 other people at a public shelter at John Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg.

There, he was able to access oxygen for his medical condition and he and his wife were given food and drinks. Earlier he took his dog, Midnight, to the county animal shelter on Walsingham road, where the dog stayed for two nights.

"It was nice seeing people helping people," Metz said.

• • •

Monday morning, city officials returned to their cities to assess damage and begin the cleanup.

Although few found major damage, streets were littered with debris — leaves, palm fronds, broken branches and the occasional tree limb or downed power line.

Beaches up and down the county were inundated with seaweed that may take weeks to clean up.

In St. Pete Beach, several large trees were blown over and a power pole broken in half. Downed power lines forced the blocking off of several streets.

In North Redington Beach, a gas station canopy smashed into gasoline pumps, shutting the station down.

A boat moored at the Madeira Beach Yacht Club condos sank into the Intracoastal Waterway after it was blown from its lift.

St. Pete Beach Mayor Alan Johnson bicycled the entire length of the city's 4-mile long beaches Tuesday morning to check for damage.

"We were very fortunate. I saw only minor damage," he said.

• • •

Flooding was rarely reported and then, usually from heavy rains accumulating in city streets.

The feared storm surge never happened.

Early in the storm, winds pulled sea water out of the bay and away from the shore along the Gulf. When the water returned, it was at low tide, resulting in a surge of only a few feet above normal.

• • •

One of the biggest issues in many beach cities involved their sewer system lift stations, which had to run on generators because of widespread power outages.

North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen had to borrow a generator from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for his town's sewer lift station. He said he is asking residents to refrain from using much water.

• • •

The general assessment of both officials and residents is they were very, very lucky.

"If this storm had gone into the Gulf, we would be having different conversation right now," Queen said. "This was a test to see how well we can work together in the event of a major storm. Thank god we dodged the bullet."

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