Thursday, November 23, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

The storm has hit. Now what do we do?

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After the storm passes, the real work begins. Cleaning up. Taking stock. Rebuilding. Here's a look at some questions you may have.

When can I go home?

Pinellas County Government spokesman Josh Boatwright said areas will likely open in phases.

"Getting to your neighborhood safely is going to be one of the first priority for county and emergency crews," he said. "Our general advice right now is to kind of listen to emergency management and follow re-entry orders and reclosure advice."

He also encouraged people to be patient.

"We anticipate through the rest of tomorrow (Monday), conditions are going to be very hazardous," he said. "People need to have the expectation that it might be several days to get back to parts of the county. It could be longer."

Be sure to watch or read the news for the latest developments.

LIVE BLOG: Latest updates on Hurricane Irma.

When I return home, what are basic things I should do before entering?

If there is standing water next to the outside walls of your home, don't go in. You won't be able to tell if the building is safe or structurally sound. Before you go in, walk carefully around the outside of your home and check for loose power lines and gas leaks. You will know there is leaking gas by the putrid, distinct odor that is added to gas to let people know gas is leaking. If you find downed lines or leaks, call your utility company. Check the foundation for cracks or other damage. Examine porch roofs and overhangs to be sure they still have all their supports. Look for gaps between the steps and the home. If you see obvious damage, have a building inspector check the home before you go in. The Red Cross recommends keeping children and pets away from hazardous sites and floodwater.

When will insurance adjustors be available?

Depending on the widespread damage across the state or a specific region, residents should plan for it to take days or even weeks before adjusters can make it out to disaster areas to assess damage and begin the claims processing. Some insurance companies, like State Farm, give adjusters the authority to draft their own checks to get claims started quicker.

If I have to start repairs right away, what do I need to do to document my costs so insurance will cover it?

Insurance providers recommend taking photos of the condition of your home before and after to show the damage. Any reports you have that show the recent condition of your home before the storm, like home inspection reports if you recently bought your house or receipts for improvements or contractor work, could help.

When will electricity be restored?

Technicians are already out in full force in Tampa Bay, according to company officials.

"As long as it's safe we will be out. There are limits of course with flooding and high winds, but our limitations are conditional only on weather," said Ana Gibbs, spokeswoman for Duke Energy. She noted that the electric company has 8,000 technicians ready and already working across the state. Duke Energy has 1.8 million customers in Florida.

To check on storm and power restoration updates, follow @DukeEnergy on Twitter and Duke Energy on Facebook. Tampa Electric customers can enroll in "Power Updates" at tecoaccount.com, follow @TampaElectric on Twitter and go to tampaelectric.com/outagemap.

COMPLETE COVERAGE:Find all our coverage about Hurricane Irma here

My car got flooded. Is it safe to try starting it?

No, do not attempt to start the car! It's tempting to see if the car still works, but if there is water in the engine, you could damage it beyond repair. Call your insurance company. You might want to have your car towed to the mechanic.

When will gas be available?

Port Tampa Bay closed Saturday, ceasing all shipments of fuel and other supplies that had previously been filling gas stations in the Tampa Bay and Central Florida areas. The port's operations are dictated by how the U.S. Coast Guard rates storm conditions. Many Tampa Bay area gas stations had gas available leading up to the storm, but closed before severe weather hit. Gas stations could begin opening as soon as Monday once the weather begins to clear.

When will the bridges re-open?

St. Petersburg Police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez said the Sheriff's Office is involved in making the decision to re-open the bridges.

"After the storm passes, we want to test the safety and security of the bridges' integrity," she said.

Fernandez said there's no time estimate on when the bridges will re-open.

When will flights resume?

Tampa International Airport closed Saturday due to the hurricane. Flight operations could begin as early as Tuesday, weather permitting. Same goes for St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, which closed due to a mandatory evacuation order on Friday at 11 a.m.

"It all depends on how severe the storm is and what kind of damage it causes," TIA spokeswoman Janet Zink said. "Flights will begin as soon as they can do so safely. We need to assess the terminal and airfield and complete any necessary clean up before flights can begin."

When will water be available?

Boatwright said the ability for supplies to be distributed will depend on the severity of the storm and the time it takes to asses the damage. People should have stocked up on water, he said.

"You're preparing for a possible disaster and then you're planning to survive," he said. "Survive, stay put and stay calm."

What if I have nowhere to go?

Boatwright said many partner organizations, including the Red Cross, will step in to assist people to find shelter after evacuation shelters begin to ramp down.

When will grocery stores re-open?

Publix, Walmart, Winn-Dixie and most other grocery stores closed Saturday in advance of the storm. Publix stores tentatively plan to re-open in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties on Tuesday, weather permitting. Officials with Winn-Dixie and Walmart say stores will open immediately when the conditions are safe. Check retailers' websites and social media accounts for alerts about stores re-opening.

What are police doing to prevent looting?

Police will be patrolling traffic check points and flooded areas once it is safe.

"We've heard a lot of rumors about that already," Fernandez said. "There was an issue with suspicious cars, and it turns out it was a CNN crew. We are fully staffed. Every officer is on a 12-hour shift. So as soon as it's safe, we will patrol the evacuated area. As far as looters go, it's really apparent when someone's out of place."

What will be the best way to communicate after the storm?

Fernandez said text messaging is the best bet.

"Everyone is going to be trying to call their loved ones and checking in with them after the storm," Fernandez said. "Text messaging when all else fails is the last thing we lose. All of the emergency operators have learned that over the years. Text messaging goes through when nothing else does."

Apps such as Zello, a walkie talkie app that gained popularity after Hurricane Harvey and was used by civilians coordinating rescue efforts, also require cellular data or wifi connections.

How long will food be safe in my refrigerator without power?

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if you keep it closed. A full freezer will keep temperature for about 48 hours.

The following foods keep at room temperature for a few days: butter or margarine, hard and processed cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, fruit juices and dried fruit, opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressings, jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives, fresh herbs and spices, fruit pies, breads and cakes, except cream cheese-frosted or cream-filled. Discard anything that turns moldy or has an unusual odor.

Is the water safe to drink?

Watch for a boil-water order. Hurricanes sometimes trigger contamination in tap water.

Water should be at a rolling boil for one to three minutes to kill bacteria. If you don't have a heat source, 1 gallon of water can be purified with eight drops, or 1/8 teaspoon, of new, unscented household bleach.

Fernandez warned residents to watch for the pressure of water and avoid it if it's low.

"If it's compromised, we'd let people know," she said. "That's why we're asking people to store water for a few days. We have to deal with things as they come."

Water got into my house. How do I prevent mold?

Mold spores are everywhere, and it is impossible to remove all spores and potential contaminants. All spores need to grow is moisture. To inhibit future mold growth, dry affected areas as quickly as possible, preferably within 24 to 48 hours from the completion of cleaning and sanitizing. The key is directing warm, dry air across wet surfaces. This directed airflow should be exhausted outside or collected using dehumidification equipment. Take care to not spread contaminants. Properly directing airflow may require putting up barriers or containing the affected areas to prevent the spread of contaminants to unaffected areas.

How do I get rid of mold?

The standard and most used way of getting rid of mold problems is to use bleach. Chlorine bleach effectively kills mold, but bleach emits toxic fumes and can be very dangerous if accidentally mixed with other cleaning agents like ammonia. So, the less bleach you use the better.

Items that have porous surfaces contaminated with mold should be gotten rid of if possible, including paper, rags, carpet, drapery and upholstery. Very light mold may be removed from porous surfaces, but extensive molding may make it better just to throw the items away.

Borax is a good natural choice for cleaning mold. It is toxic if you swallow it, but otherwise, it does not emit dangerous fumes or chemicals when you use it. What makes it great to use on mold is that it disinfects the surfaces it cleans. You mix borax with water in a one cup to one gallon ratio. Use the mixture to scrub the mold until it comes loose from the surface. Then, use a rag or vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to clean up the mold that comes loose. Dry the area as well as you can after cleaning. There is no need to rinse the borax completely since it acts as a natural deterrent to mold.

Can I flush my toilet?

Fernandez said they are recommending initially using the toilet twice before flushing. If pressure is lost and flushing doesn't work, use a bucket of water to allow gravity to flush.

There are trees and power lines down everywhere, but I need to get out of my house. How can I tell if it's safe?

Boatwright said to avoid downed power lines and driving through water where it is difficult to gauge the depth and wait for an all clear from emergency management services.

"Stay calm and stay put," he said. "There's a lot of hazards that can be created from storms after storms of this magnitude pass. Until you get notifications that it's safe to do so, there's going to be a period of time that you're going to have to sit and wait."

How can I help?

Boatwright said Volunteer Florida is the lead agency coordinating volunteer groups and individuals looking to help in relief efforts after the storm. To donate or register to volunteer, visit volunteerflorida.org or call 1-800-FLHELP1.

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