A tree felled when Hurricane Irma passed by caused damage to the fence at the home of Clearwater resident Larry Jeffe
CLEARWATER – “We dodged a bullet,” said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, three days following the landfall of Hurricane Irma, a massive storm that arrived Sunday in Florida as a Category 4 and settled into Tampa Bay as a Category 1 early Monday morning.
And there’s no doubt about that. Irma, which was predicted on Sunday to potentially hit the area as a Category 3 hurricane, could have left a far more damaging mark on the area. As it is, millions – including a majority of Clearwater residents – have been left without power, with gas in high demand and frustrations bubbling over.
According to Cretekos, initial inspections show Clearwater came out of the storm relatively unscathed from a structural standpoint.
“We’ve basically looked at all city buildings and facilities and they have very little if any damage,” Cretekos said. “All in all, we got very lucky.”
Weathering the storm
“I decided I was going to romance Irma,” Clearwater resident Larry Jaffe said. “I wanted to dance with Irma – and she definitely danced.”
And ultimately, that’s why Jaffe and his wife, Shelley, decided to weather Hurricane Irma in their 1940s home.
Jaffe, a poet and 14-year resident of Clearwater, lives off Drew Street near the Clearwater Country Club.
“We live in a cinder block house and it’s built very strong,” said Jaffe, who added that the couple recently put a new roof on the home. “It held up – that’s what counts.”
The Jaffes, along with their two dogs, Ruby and Miles, prepped their home as best as possible and then settled in for the wait. They had power until about 11 p.m. Sunday.
“Then all hell started breaking loose,” Jaffe said.
When the storm cleared, Jaffe said his home sustained no damage, although he lost a fence and all of the trees in his yard.
Longtime Tampa Bay and five-year Clearwater resident Lynn Shorey faired equally well, sustaining no damage to her home near the Spectrum Field.
Shorey said she and her wife, May Fletcher, felt their home was safe enough to weather the storm.
“We decided to stay because we aren't in an evac or flood zone, we have an older concrete block home and felt it was secure,” Shorey said.
For Shorey, Irma itself wasn’t nearly as stressful as dealing with preparations prior to her arrival.
“We had trouble finding wood to board up windows because they were selling out so quickly and then when the stores did have wood, twice people took my wife’s cart full of supplies,” Shorey said. “After that, the waiting and not knowing – the anticipation. If the storm was going to be bad, then just come and be bad but sitting and waiting in a closed-up house for a day was scary and stressful.”
All city offices reopened Tuesday, although some facilities remained closed. Clearwater Main Library and North Greenwood library branches are open and operating at normal capacity. Countryside Library is open but does not currently have internet or phone service. The East and Beach branches remain closed and it is unknown when they will reopen.
The Long Center is the only city recreation center open to the public. All others remain closed until further notice.
Lifeguards returned to the beach but Pier 60 remains closed as repairs are underway to the property.
Residents are urged to refrain from placing storm debris in the roadway. Instead, debris should be stacked along the curb away from storm sewers. Solid Waste will pick up debris on residents’ normal trash and recycling day. Thursday and Friday pick-up services will be on their regular schedule.
Officials say the tap water is safe to drink, but the city’s water plants are currently out of service. The city is currently using water supplies from the county. Reclaimed water service is not in operation.
Residents are urged to minimize water usage in an effort to lessen stress on the sewer system. A number of the city’s lift stations are not operational due to power outages.
An equipment malfunction led to a 1 million gallon sewage spill into Stevenson Creek on Monday. The problem was resolved later that day.
Spectrum Field sustained no damage, according to spokesman Rob Stretch.
“We were very lucky,” Stretch said. “We just have some general cleanup and we are working to get everything back in place.”
Happy Hour Wednesdays will resume Sept. 20.
Although the threat of Irma has passed, there are still dangers left in her wake.
With power still out throughout the city, Cretekos urged all residents to continue to be cautious, especially on the roadways.
“Be patient,” he said. “Don’t worry about being in a hurry.”
Cretekos also asked that residents be mindful of city workers who are working hard to bring the city back to life.
“Our staff – first responders, firefighters, police, garbage workers – they are all doing a fantastic job,” Cretekos said. “They are out serving our citizens, doing their jobs.
“If you see them out and about in the coming days and weeks, say thank you,” he continued. “They deserve it.”
Logan Mosby is editor of the Clearwater Beacon. She can be reached at lmosby@TBNweekly.com or by calling 727-397-5563, ext. 304.