By Jane Smith
Delray Beach fared okay during Hurricane Irma, said Mayor Cary Glickstein the day after Irma’s tropical storm-force winds damaged trees and downed power lines.
“I’m very pleased with how staff handled the pre-, during and post-storm activities,” he said. “We had no serious injuries.”
The city will thank its employees at a Hurricane Heroes concert this Saturday (Sept. 23) at its Old School Square band shell. The concert, free to employees with their city IDs, starts at 6:30 p.m. Relatives can attend for a nominal charge. Free pizza, ice cream and drinks will be served.
The dune at the city’s beach did its job, said Rob Barron, the dune management consultant.
“It doesn’t look pretty with all the seaweed and salt on it,” he said on Sept. 12, “but in another month, the plants will be thriving.” The seaweed helps to fertilize the plants, he said.
Delray Beach staff started clearing debris at 2 a.m. Sept. 11, just after Irma swept through the city.
“Nearly 75 percent of the city’s major arteries were blocked by storm debris,” Neal deJesus, interim city manager, told commissioners at a special meeting on Sept. 13. Public works, utilities and fire rescue staff worked in the wind and rain to trim trees and help clear a path through the storm debris to allow police and fire-rescue vehicles to respond to emergencies.
The city set up a temporary debris management site on the former Office Depot headquarters on Congress Avenue to save time and money, deJesus said. “If we went to the Palm Beach County site, it would take three times as long,” he said.
FEMA and the state Department of Environmental Management had to approve the site and certify the trucks. The two agencies signed off on Sunday (Sept. 17), he said.
AshBritt Inc. will supply 10 trucks and Thompson Consulting Services will oversee the removal, deJesus said.
The cleanup started on Monday (Sept. 18). It will take several months for the debris to be removed, deJesus said. He asked residents to be patient. He estimates the debris removal cost to be about $10 million, although staff has told him the figure is too low.
FEMA will reimburse the city 75 percent of the cost if debris is separated into six categories: vegetation (tree limbs, palm fronds, etc.), electronics, large appliances, construction (fences and plumbing), household garbage and hazardous waste.
Residents are urged to use clear plastic bags, instead of black or green ones, for leaves and other small landscape waste. Doing so will allow Thompson to make sure the bags contain only vegetation debris.
The sewage pumping stations “were the Achilles heel” of the storm, deJesus said. Of the 129 stations, 100 had both primary and secondary lines. The city had 30 portable generators to power the other 29 stations, he said.
Public works and utilities employees worked non-stop to move the generators from station to station. The city purchased an additional 20 generators to help power the stations.
“They did an awesome job of moving the generators,” Commissioner Shelly Petrolia said the Thursday after Irma. “There was only one small spill.”
The minor spill happened Sept. 14, when 1,000 gallons flowed up through the drain on Lake Ida Road.
Delray Beach staff had to report the spill and cleanup to state regulators.
The city lifted its water use restrictions the next afternoon, Sept. 15, when 90 percent of the stations had power restored.
Commissioners will discuss the hurricane response at their October workshop.
All Delray Beach first responders worked 96 hours straight, deJesus said.
“During the storm, we had two heroic acts,” he said.
One was the rescue of a woman whose roof flew off on the afternoon of Sept. 10 when Irma’s outer bands began to strike Delray Beach.
She tried calling 911, but she couldn’t get through to the dispatch center. The power and back-up generator were not working at the city’s Emergency Operations Center. The woman who lives on NE Fourth Street wrote a Facebook post that eventually was relayed to Delray Beach Police.
By that time, the winds were over 50 mph, too strong for a police cruiser. But Delray Beach Police have a military surplus tanker that it uses to block streets for festivals. Police used the tanker to rescue the woman, deJesus said.
Fire-Rescue workers responded to a family whose two-year-old suffered respiratory distress. The child needed breathing treatments every four hours. Because the power was out, the workers stayed with the family to watch them administer the next treatment. They left the family enough oxygen bottles to get through the storm, deJesus said.
During the storm, two police officers were injured, he told city commissioners on Sept. 13. One officer was hurt while trying to get a homeless person off a bridge, deJesus said. The officer slipped on the grating and injured his ankle – either a sprain or a partial tear of the Achilles tendon.
The other officer was driving to work in the early morning hours when it was “pitch black on Jog Road,” de Jesus said. “He hit a tree and lost control and hit another tree,” he said. The officer totaled his car and was taken as a trauma patient to Delray Medical Center. The officer was released later that day.
The city had one overdose fatality after the storm. Two people broke into a boarded-up halfway house near the downtown and they shot up there, deJesus told commissioners.
“One died because the other one waited 30 minutes before calling (911),” he said.
After putting in those hours, first responders volunteered to be part of the mutual aid plan to help other harder hit areas of Florida.
Twenty police officers drove over to Naples/Fort Myers as part of a county convoy that would provide security to that area. They returned Tuesday (Sept. 19).
The city’s Fire Rescue sent an engine and a rescue truck to Marathon. They were told to be self-sufficient for seven days, deJesus said.
“They had to bring their own water and didn’t have power,” he said. “They sent dramatic pictures of the devastation of homes.”
The team returned Wednesday (Sept. 20) as part of the Palm Beach County response.
“We’re blessed to have homes that need power,” deJesus said on Tuesday (Sept. 18) during a commission workshop.