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Fearful owners keep boards up

(ran South edition of Pasco Times)

Christmas lights come down in January and Halloween jack-o'-lanterns get tossed in early November. But when exactly is the right time to remove the vestiges of a busy hurricane season?

Although more than two weeks have passed since Frances swept through the county, giant plywood boards still cover dozens of homes.

Few homeowners have complained about the plywood, even though parts of Spring Hill appear ready to weather a gang war, because of the fresh memory of homes crumpling beneath one of three storms that slammed the state over the past two months.

Even as recovery efforts continue in the Panhandle, three more storms, dubbed Jeanne, Karl and Lisa, brew in the Atlantic Ocean.

While a few homeowners said exhaustion, rather than storm paranoia, prevented them from stripping down the plywood for the second or third time, most say they have purposely left the plywood nailed up, as they keep an eye on the Atlantic Ocean.

"I think Frances got everybody's attention, and Ivan scared the heck out of us, because for so long we were pretty much unaffected," said code enforcement supervisor Mark Caskie, whose Spring Hill home is one of at least 20 within a 2-square-mile area that are still boarded up.

Caskie said he hasn't had the time or energy to take down his plywood, because he's been stretched thin between working and helping family members pick up after the storms. Like many of his neighbors, he is tired of dealing with storms. He boarded up for Charley, took the plywood down and then boarded up again for Frances. He also just recently stripped the plywood off his mother-in-law's house.

"I just don't feel like taking them down again, partly it has to do with being tired of being jerked around, and it also has to do with exhaustion of everything else going on," he said.

Many newcomers to Florida and its hurricane season, like Michelle Bollaert, said they made a conscious decision to play it safe and keep the plywood up as long as the risk of a hurricane exists. Bollaert moved to Spring Hill earlier this year from Michigan.

"I just don't think we're going to get hit again, but we left it up, mainly because we're watching and waiting," said Bollaert, whose home on Lema Road is one of two on the block still boarded up.

On a particularly plywood-friendly block of Drysdale Street, homeowner Anthony Agard said he planned to keep his plywood up until he knows the routes of hurricanes currently out in the Atlantic Ocean or until his neighbors take down their boards.

"I think we're pretty much all looking at each other to see who's going to break it down first," said Agard who has lived in Spring Hill for nearly five years. "But for sure, I'm taking it down Sunday. I mean, if Jeanne doesn't hit."

While there's no state law nor county code that deals with plywood coverings nor how long homeowners can keep windows boarded, fire officials say they're concerned about potential fire hazards.

Boarding up windows with plywood cuts off escape routes from fires, which is the reason state law requires operable windows in buildings.

"It's probably a hazard, but you have to weigh your risks during the height of a hurricane," Hernando County Fire Rescue Director Mike Nickerson said. "Would you rather die in a fire or have a log come through your window and kill you?"

Nickerson recommended residents unboard at least one operable window in every room, while they wait to see about the next storm.

The hurricane season officially ends Nov. 30. But several residents said they weren't sure how much longer they planned to keep their windows boarded up.

"You kidding me? My front window is made of such fragile glass, I could blow on it and it would break," said Thomas McKenney, who decided to keep his home on Horizon Avenue boarded up.

"I'll leave it up, just until they get rid of the three or four storms that's in line for Florida."

Jennifer Liberto can be reached at (352) 848-1434. Send e-mail to libertosptimes.com.

Plywood covers the front windows of Chris Sherman's home at 1338 Gatewood Ave. in Spring Hill on Wednesday. He has kept his home boarded up while waiting to see what direction other Atlantic storms will take. He said his fear of Ivan led him to write the message.

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