An oak tree toppled across 137th Street just north of Wilcox Road in Largo.
LARGO – After reporting that Hurricane Irma failed to cause any major injuries or fatalities, Fire Rescue Chief Shelby Willis succinctly summed up her feelings about the past week.
“We were very, very lucky,” said Willis, who also serves as the city’s emergency manager.
Willis was one of several sleep-deprived department directors who gave updates to the City Commission about Largo’s post-storm status Sept. 12 during a work session at the Largo Community Center.
Willis led a team of hundreds of first responders and city personnel who stayed at various facilities during the storm and worked to prepare for its aftermath. More than 200 stayed at the Emergency Operations Center.
“We slept in closets, we slept in hallways, we slept under chairs, and the team worked really well together,” she said.
Willis reported that LFR suspended service at 8 p.m. Saturday and reestablished service 5 a.m. Monday, during which it had to hold more than 130 calls.
Community Development Director Carol Stricklin said a detailed damage assessment was underway, but mobile home parks were the hardest hit.
As of Tuesday evening, she said 36 dwelling units (predominantly mobile homes) and one business have been destroyed.
In total, the storm damaged 1,873 structures, 890 of which had major damage, affecting about 4,200 people.
“The pattern of damage is kind of interesting,” she said. “It’s not uniform across the city. It’s really concentrated in the center part of the city.”
Most of that damage was to many of Largo’s mobile homes.
Three parks – El Dorado, East Bay and Lincolnshire – had major damage. Three others – Four Seasons, Point West and King’s Manor – also sustained damage.
In order to help residents rebuild, the city will not require permits to repair fences or remove trees. In addition, commissioners signed off on waiving permitting fees for demolition at mobile home parks and for certain types of repairs to houses (roofing, siding, etc.) for the next 30 days.
Police and traffic
Police Chief Jeff Undestad also said there were no major problems to report, including at Largo High School, which was used as a shelter. He said the school had close to 4,000 occupants, 460 of which were special needs.
Power outages throughout the county, however, have turned his focus to traffic safety.
He said 260 of the county’s 760 controlled intersections were out as of Tuesday evening, and 161 of them were being controlled by the Sheriff’s Office.
Undestad reported that staff were performing an inventory of the current state of Largo’s intersections and that area chiefs have been coordinating and planning ways to deal with them.
He said that officers would be working 12-hour shifts until the problems are resolved, and added he was happy the School Board decided not to reopen schools until Monday.
“Without traffic control devices out there, it would’ve been a logistical nightmare to try to get kids safely to school,” he said.
Since Undestad said damage was somewhat minimal, looting has not been an issue.
He did say, however, that LPD was getting calls of scams involving unlicensed contractors and that residents should be aware.
Solid waste removal
Public Works Director Brian Usher said debris collection contractors were mobilized Friday, arrived at the city Monday afternoon and will be spending the rest of this week clearing the road of branches and debris and keeping sewers clear.
Beginning Sept. 18, they will be collecting debris citywide for the next three weeks at a cost $200,000 for removal and $40,000 for monitoring.
“Based on current surveys we’ve conducted, we believe it will generate 15,000 cubic yards of debris,” Usher said. “That is approximately 680 semi truckloads of materials.”
He said they will pick up debris placed on the curb, but the city will not cut up felled trees or branches.
He added that regular trash service will begin Thursday.
Environmental Services Director Irvin Kety reported that the city’s improved infrastructure performed well.
He said a standby generator at Lift Station 15 failed to turn on, however, causing a problem.
“That one did overflow fairly significantly and that water went into the Intracoastal Waterways,” he said.
He added that staff also checked out manholes and lift stations that have had overflows before, and only three or four of 23 had small overflows.
Since lift stations are working properly, he said Largo residents don’t need to minimize flushing toilets or water down the drain to prevent sewer backups.
Willis and Undestad said local businesses also played a key part in helping the city weather the storm.
Willis said Walmart, Safeway and Target donated water, while the Amish Country Store, Publix, Starbucks, Mugs Sports Bar and Grill, CIS Services, Tijuana Flats and Tailgaters all donated food.
Also, Largo Medical Center allowed the city to use the third floor of its parking garage to protect city vehicles, Pinch a Penny sheltered first responders at its facility and McGill Plumbing helped repair a broken water line at the EOC.
Undestad added that WaWa’s managers were on call for the LPD and fueled cars whenever they wanted.
“That was pretty amazing,” he said. “I mean that’s over the top stuff when you do that kind of the service for us.”
Mayor Woody Brown, who stayed at the EOC during the storm, said he was impressed with city staff’s efforts during the storm.
“I think that we were prepared for much more than came and we were a lot stronger than the storm ended up being for us,” he said.
Chris George is editor of the Largo Leader. He can be reached at 727-397-5563, ext. 316, or by email at cgeorge@TBNweekly.com.
FACILITY CLOSURES AND SCHEDULE CHANGES
City Hall and the Largo Public Library have reopened.
Recreation facilities will open Thursday, Sept. 14; subject to power availability
Largo Golf Course is scheduled to open Friday, Sept. 15; subject to change
SOLID WASTE COLLECTION
Residential garbage collection will resume Thursday, Sept. 14. Recycling collection will resume Monday, Sept. 18. Bulk collection will resume Thursday, Sept. 14.
Residents of affected areas that can safely sort debris are asked to place any storm-generated debris on the public right-of-way, which is the area that extends from the street to the sidewalk, ditch, utility pole or easement.
Residents are urged to separate the debris as follows:
• Vegetative debris: Whole trees, tree stumps, tree branches, tree trunks and other leafy materials;
• Construction and demolition debris: Damaged components of buildings and structures, such as lumber and wood, wallboard, glass, metal, roofing materials, tile, furnishings, and fixtures;
• Household hazardous waste: Materials that are ignitable, reactive, toxic or corrosive, such as paints, cleaners, pesticides, etc.
• White goods: Refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, heat pumps, ovens, ranges, washing machines, clothes dryers and water heaters;