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Still paying the price: Hurricane Irma

A year later, local governments still await reimbursement for damage and cleanup costs

September 12, 2018
By CJ HADDAD ( , Pine Island Eagle

On Sept 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma made landfall over Florida, taking with it the lives of 84 people statewide, leaving millions without power and hundreds of thousands with property damage.

A Category 5 hurricane at its peak, Irma was the fifth costliest U.S. Atlantic Hurricane in history, with damages totaling $53.4 billion.

Lee County was hit hard by 100-plus mph winds and massive rainfall that lead to flooding and power outages across the region.

County officials have learned a lot in the calendar year, trying to absorb as much information as they can and implementing what they've learned into future seasons.

"Every hurricane, every storm, every disaster we always learn something new. If we don't learn, then we are not really doing our job," said Lee County Emergency Management Director Lee Mayfield. "So taking all those components and lessons learned from Irma - some are really able to be applied really quickly. A lot we've already done."

County spokesperson Betsy Clayton provided numbers attesting to the staggering costs from last year's historic storm.

Countywide, commercial loss due to Irma totaled $102.4 million, residential loss totaled $725.9 million, as well as an additional $4.4 million in other loss.

Irma left behind 2,704,829.76 cubic yards of debris in her wake in unincorporated Lee County and the Village of Estero, costing $39,038,906.50 in removal costs.

Nearly 10,000 traffic signs and sign supports have been repaired, as well as 303 traffic signals.

Countless businesses were affected, many closing their doors for some time to deal with roof issues and lack of power.

All told, 2,996 Small Business Administration Loans were approved, totaling $117.7 million, with 75 Emergency Bridge Loans approved, totaling $3.1 million.

Southwest Florida homes were hit hard by Irma's intense winds, deteriorating roofs and spewing shingles about.

A total of 12,175 roofing permits were issued from Sept. 11, 2017 to Aug. 23 of this year.

Flooding was another issue for Lee County residents, with some roadways deemed unusable for people looking to leave their house post-storm and retrieve additional supplies.

More than 36 miles of major drainage canals were cleared of debris after Irma.

Lee County has allocated $3 million in its 2018-2019 budget for flood remediation.

The county has also been working hard on making sure its residents, as well as its employees, are more prepared this time around.

They county has also bolstered its shelter operations.

"Whatever the disaster may be, we're broadening our reports. We always want to do better, whether it's short, medium or long-term changes," Mayfield said.

He added that the county is boosting its preparedness for staffing of first responders, making sure they and their families are safe and can get where they need to if a disaster occurs.

Many first responders have no choice to evacuate, as their duties require them to stay and be of service.

Last year, around 300,000 people evacuated while 14 shelters housed 35,000 Lee County residents, including 3,500 pets. There were two special needs shelters.

From the first shelter opening to the last shelter closing, they operated for six weeks and two days.

"We are paying special attention to our shelter operations and those who help us get them together," Mayfield said.

"Our shelter decisions are based on the storm. We feel confident in our shelter locations no matter how many we need to open. We're working on staffing, food, investing in generators, impact glass, square-footage and capacity," Mayfield said.

Mayfield advises residents to have a plan to stay with a friend of family member, even a hotel, outside of an evacuation zone if you can.

Shelter opening information can be found at, as well as social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

"The more you prepare, the better your outcome," Mayfield added.

He says to develop and talk through a family disaster plan and to build a disaster supply kit.

"You can print out our family emergency plan, where it has questions to help shape what your family should do if a disaster scenario was to occur on our website."

Keeping records, making sure food and water is available for humans and pets alike, as well as getting any medicines in order are some things to add to your disaster supply kit according to Mayfield.

Staying up-to-date on the latest information is key as well.

"Knowledge is power in these situations."

For hurricane preparedness tips, visit or visit the hurricane guide posted to the Breeze website at

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj



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