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Public's patience needed for post-Jeanne cleanup

Even though Jeanne downshifted to a tropical storm Sunday as it made its way across Pasco County, it still returned the local landscape to damp and darkened terrain. Pasco again is fertile ground for tree trimmers, roofers and commercial sign repair shops after Jeanne's destructive winds.

Electricity remained out to nearly 104,000 Pasco customers as of midday Monday. Don't feel isolated. Schools remained closed today because of power outages. Five Pasco County fire stations had no electricity. Four at least had generators, but one had no power at all and three had no water.

Localized flooding remains problematic. The county never stopped pumping throughout Jeanne's stay, but to little avail. Before the weekend, Pasco had fielded 415 complaints of flooding in 26 neighborhoods. Some of that high water returned.

"We lost a lot of ground we had gained," said Michelle Baker, Pasco's emergency management director.

Jeanne's relatively quick trip across the state, compared with Frances' plodding and Ivan's five days of uncertainty, limited public anxiety. Storm preparations, for the most part, are down pat because the public smartly held on to its plywood and sandbags. The lengthy lines at hardware and home improvement stores that dominated pre-Ivan didn't materialize for Jeanne. It meant people were better prepared. But, it also meant indifference.

County officials preached patience in the aftermath of Frances' visit Labor Day weekend. Frustration is a lingering concern, but fatigue is an absolute reality after Jeanne.

"We're at the point right now where we don't even care," Aaron Finkle told the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday after declining to reinstall the plywood on his Clark Street home in Hudson.

The weariness is understandable, but dangerous. So is impatience. Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative workers, tree trimmers and a Pasco sheriff's deputy stopped traffic Monday morning along State Road 52 in Gowers Corner as the repair crews worked to remove trees from downed power lines. No matter that traffic was stopped momentarily; impatient motorists scurried along the north shoulder to cut ahead of others awaiting the deputy's instruction to proceed westward.

In some instances, a sense of community is absent. Some people are irate that free ice isn't available. Others stole fallen traffic signals in west Pasco.

Ice, in Baker's words, is now a luxury item. There aren't enough refrigerator trucks statewide to handle the demand for free distribution, so Baker recommended people patronize their local stores for ice and other essentials. Emergency distribution of food and water will begin if the need is great, Baker said. There was an immediate economic impact elsewhere. The closing of Pasco County schools brought a boom for fast-food restaurants.

Opportunities for volunteerism abound. The county is seeking people capable of moving landscape debris. Call (727) 847-8955 if you can help.

Lending a hand always is a crucial part of post-storm recovery. Jeanne gives us another chance to do just that.

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