Irma recovery continues, with storm debris collection hindered by needs across Florida and in Texas

Only 230 FPL customers remained without power in Sarasota County as of early afternoon on Sept. 21

A crew works to restore power at a Sarasota County intersection, with a Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office unit providing help with traffic. Image from Florida Power & Light Co. via Twitter on Sept. 16

As of the afternoon of Sept. 20, Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) was reporting 230 customers still without power, down from a total of 218,840 immediately after Hurricane Irma swept through the region, Richard Collins, Sarasota County’s emergency services director, reported to County Administrator Tom Harmer shortly before 9 p.m. that day.

Five of the county’s lift stations remained without power, Collins added, but only one traffic signal still needed generator support to operate.

By 2:05 p.m. on Sept. 21, FPL was reporting only 20 Sarasota County customers lacking electricity. The website asked that anyone who had not had power restored by then please contact the company, noting that the issue “may be more localized and require specialized attention.”

As the recovery from Irma continues, Sarasota County Emergency Services and Emergency Management staff have continued to update county leaders on power reconnections, river flooding, efforts to bring infrastructure back on line and collection of debris.

Deputy Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown also presented statistics to the City Commission this week regarding the storm’s effects.

On Sept. 18, Brown told the board that as of late that afternoon, six of the city’s lift stations still had not had electricity restored, but all were working on generators and no spills had been reported.

Although 21 city water lines broke, he continued, all were repaired in less than 48 hours.

Of the city’s 10 wells, Brown said, only one remained on a generator as of the evening of Sept. 18

“We’re putting a lot of heat on FPL to work as quickly as possible,” he added.

On the night of Sept. 18, Ed McCrane, the county’s emergency management chief, reported to Harmer that on Sept. 17, FPL increased its response teams to more than 900 workers in Sarasota County.

City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch listens as Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown makes his report on Sept. 18. News Leader photo

On Sept. 20, the Sarasota Police Department tweeted, “We know many of you have seen delays on Fruitville [Road] the last few days. We’re directing traffic to make sure crews get out of Robarts quickly!”

FPL employees and assisting linemen have been headquartered at Robarts Arena, the county fairgrounds, on Fruitville Road.

As of the night of Sept. 18, McCrane continued, the county still had one fire station — No. 73 — without power.

Brown told the City Commission that one major problem area continued to be near the intersection of La Paloma Avenue and Ogden Street on Siesta Key, where an Australian pine toppled by Irma had knocked out a transformer. The tree, he added, was still resting against the transformer.

All that debris

Workers collect storm debris in the city of Sarasota. Image from the city via Twitter on Sept. 21

Along with power, another big concern has been all the toppled trees, broken branches, dead leaves and other material Irma left in her trail.

“The County is collaborating and working closely with the State as it relates to debris collection,” Collins pointed out in his Sept. 20 email. “With the tremendous amount of damage across so many counties, debris contractors are having a difficult time providing the needed resources around the State. We are also encountering this issue in our need for resources. To expedite our needed resources, we are considering the use of emergency procurement for other contractors, working with the State Department of Emergency Management team on alternatives, and working through our lobbyist at the Governor’s Office to request assistance,” Collins noted.

“Our neighboring counties are also dealing with the same issues, and we are communicating with them as well,” he added. “We will continue to pursue every available avenue to obtain resources and provide regular updates on our progress. To date, we have a combination of contractor resources as well as our county resources from [the] Public Works and Parks [Recreation and Natural Resources departments] assisting in the process and have begun collections in the Southern areas of the County. Our application for access and pick-up of debris on private roads remains under review,” he noted.

Todd Kerkering, the emergency manager for the City of Sarasota, told the City Commission on Sept. 18 that not only are the city and county having to contend with competition for resources because of the statewide impacts, but also because Irma arrived so close on the heels of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

He added that he knew county staff members had requested 25 trucks to haul storm debris, “and they were told they might get four.”

City staff hoped to arrange for two, he said.

Tree limbs are piled on the right of way of Ogden Street on Siesta Key on Sept. 20. Rachel Hackney photo

The contractor the City of Sarasota is using for storm debris reported that it would take about two weeks to collect the material, Brown told the City Commission. Crews will check each street at least twice, he pointed out, to ensure everything has been removed. “It’s going to be a long, long process.”

In his Sept. 20 email to Harmer, Collins wrote, “Because of the success of our operations at the [county] Landfill, we are working to continue to extend the hours of operation beyond September 23rd. We are planning on [opening the facility] again this Sunday, and will extend the [waiving] of fees at the landfill until September 30th. As of today, that program has resulted in the collection of 2,858 tons of debris; up 348 tons from yesterday.”

The county website says the landfill will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sept. 23 and Sept. 30; it also will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 24. The landfill is located at 4000 Knights Trail Road in Nokomis.

Regarding high water: “The Myakka River continues to recede and is currently in minor flood stage at 7.7 [feet]; down from 8.19 feet at the Myakka State Park,” Collins wrote on Sept. 20. “Flood waters continue to recede in the neighborhoods around Palm Drive and South Moon Drive,” he added.

Aid from the government

On Sept. 20, Collins also noted, “We are still supporting one remaining comfort station on Bee Ridge Road; however, we expect that station to close within the next day.”

The county collaborated with a number of entities to open the comfort stations last week, as thousands of customers continued to deal with the loss of power. The comfort stations offered the public not only an opportunity to cool off in an air-conditioned environment, but also the ability to obtain water and to charge cell phones.

Sarasota Police Department officers are among workers handling meal service for the public at the Brookside Middle School shelter during the storm period. Image from SPD via Twitter

Additionally, Collins pointed out that as of Sept. 20, 68 residents had registered for the Blue Roof Program provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Bee Ridge Community Park, located at 4430 S. Lockwood Ridge Road in Sarasota.

“Operation Blue Roof provides a temporary covering of blue plastic sheeting to help reduce further damage to property until permanent repairs can be made,” the county website explains. “Qualifying homeowners must sign a right of entry (ROE) form to allow government employees and contractors onto their property to assess damage and install the temporary covering,” it notes. The ROE collection center is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Additional information is available at and at 1-888-ROOF-BLU (1-888-766-3258).

Collins also reported that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams continue to provide residents information on recovery aid. As of Sept. 20, Collins continued, 9,769 residents had registered for FEMA assistance, up from the 8,454​ on Sept. 19.

Kerkering told the City Commission on Monday that FEMA has only one liaison serving both Sarasota and Manatee counties, and the agency’s Disaster Survivor Assistance Team was working from south to north in Sarasota County. People are being encouraged to register online for help, Kerkering pointed out. That website is The phone number is 1-800-621-3362, the county website says.

Further, the county has damage assessment teams inspecting residential and commercial structures, the county website notes. “These teams look at structures that have minor, major, affected or destroyed levels,” the website says. “These damage reports can assist homeowners and business owners with their insurance claims.”

During his report to the City Commission, Brown recognized staff members for their hard work during the storm, and he interjected a bit of levity.

A combination of about 160 Sarasota Police Department (SPD) unformed officers and civilian staff worked through the hurricane, along with about 16 employees of the city’s Utilities Department, 29 landscape workers, 16 employees who deal with streets and highways, and six who work at the city garage.

Brown added that he was one of approximately 30 city employees who spent two nights at what he jokingly called “the SPD hotel and resort.” Department staff was very hospitable, he said, but he would not recommend the accommodations to anyone. “It was tough.”