Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

'We were lucky': Zephyrhills, Dade City get back to normal after Irma

Two weeks after Hurricane Irma struck Florida, residents and city officials in eastern Pasco — hit harder than other areas of the county — are moving forward to regain normalcy.

Irma's eye passed directly over Zephyrhills and just west of Dade City. In both cities, officials say they were lucky. No one died as a result of the storm. Residents lost power, but even they counted themselves lucky to still have places to live.

Zephyrhills Fire Chief Brian R. Swartout said that as soon as the hurricane passed, teams went out to check on nursing homes, shelters and mobile home parks where people chose not to evacuate.

"We planned for the worst, hoped for the best," Swartout said.

Zephyrhills City Manager Steve Spina said the city had teams prepared to go out after the hurricane to help residents and clear roads.

The city of about 15,000 faced mostly downed power lines and fallen trees, which it is still working to clear. A damage assessment found that about 10 buildings sustained damage, Spina said. The county offered to help the city clean up, but Spina said the city obtained a burn permit and had begun burning debris. The city has also set up sessions for residents to receive information on how to receive help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Last Friday afternoon on Kozy Acres Drive, Elizabeth Jakeman sat on her front porch. Jakeman; her husband, Bryan, and their son, Brandon, stayed at a nearby hotel during Irma. They were lucky enough to have gone grocery shopping before the rush, she said, and had three cases of bottled water.

But when they returned home the day after Irma, their food was spoiled, and their power was out.

The tubes of 3-year-old Brandon's favorite yogurt were no good; Elizabeth told him he would have to wait until they could go shopping again.

"We thought some of it would be savable, but none of it was," she said.

The unopened tub of butter, the jug of milk they bought with their food stamps, had to be thrown out.

On the Monday night after the storm, they ate cold hot dogs. Most stores were closed, and businesses that were open had lines that snaked around curbs. When they got to Walmart, there was no frozen or refrigerated food, she said. They had to decide how much food they should buy to replenish what was lost.

They bought cases of canned Spam and beef ravioli. By Wednesday, they had power again.

"When the power came back on I thought, all right, we can start getting things back to normal now," Elizabeth said.

The first few steps, she said, would be rationing the rest of their food stamps to get through the remainder of the month and replacing a bottle of bubble-gum flavored Amoxicillin for Brandon.

In Dade City, City Manager Billy C. Poe Jr. said that although power was slow to be restored to the city's 8,000 residents, roads had been cleared of trees that caused more damage than the winds themselves. Overall, the city fared better than he expected.

"We were lucky," Poe said.

Dade City Police spokesman Brian A. Uppercue said post-hurricane cleanup was a result of planning ahead. The department kept up a police presence on the roads, and Uppercue said he maintained a running list of places to check on after the hurricane passed.

"Everything that we did was purposeful," he said.

The city saw a shortage of fuel at gas stations in the storm's immediate aftermath, and some resources were still hard to find.

Poe said he was working with city departments to look at what they could have done better and how to better prepare for future tropical storms.

On a humid Friday afternoon last week, Edward F. Wood, 70, and his wife, drove his white pickup around his mobile home neighborhood, Lakeview in the Hills in Dade City. It was almost noon, and the sun's rays were more intense than when he had started at 9 a.m.

Picking up stray limbs, Wood said the only damage their camper-turned-home took was two holes from flying debris. He said he was waiting on some income to buy some tape to cover the holes.

After unloading the truck bed of branches and dead leaves, he was ready to go inside their air-conditioned camper for a break.

"Ain't nothing else you can do but go on with life," he said.

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