Mayor Leary – November 2017
Mother Nature certainly reminded us of her power over the past few months. In August we saw Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in Texas. In September we experienced anxiety, destruction, and patience as Hurricane Irma threatened, arrived, and vacated our state bringing winds and water and leaving debris and flooding across Florida and the Caribbean. On Irma’s heels, Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico leaving thousands of lives in shambles for the foreseeable future.
We also experienced human tragedy in Las Vegas and locally with the loss of Brian Buwalda who was electrocuted during Hurricane Irma after he left the safety of his home during the storm to help a friend. There was the senseless taking of Jennifer Fulford’s life, and we remember one year later the loss of Roger Trindade. We are reminded seemingly too often, that none are immune to devastation and loss. Thank you for your concern and compassion.
Regarding Hurricane Irma specifically, your city staff worked to prepare our city for landfall. During Irma’s visit, the city activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) which serves as the centralized hub designed to effectively manage all emergency-related issues from power outages, downed trees, lift station issues, flooding and others. Irma left over 9,000 of our residents without power.
After the storm, we transitioned from response to recovery and worked around the clock to restore normalcy. Over 50 percent of our affected electric utility customers were restored within 24 hours and in just one week, our electric utility crews, with the assistance of linemen from Georgia, restored power to all of our electric customers. Because Harvey, Irma, and Maria impacted so many areas of our county in such a short time frame, outside resources were scarce. Fortunately, our contractors were secured ahead of time and remained committed during the recovery and restoration process. Your words and actions, the thank you’s, bottles of water, subs, pats on the back and even assisting with the clean-up, kept those that worked for us, moving forward.
The Sunday evening of the storm, as the outer bands of Irma impacted Winter Park, under the supervision of the Winter Park Police Department, I was able to witness first-hand the intensity of the storm. Trees and power poles snapped in half, and with them power lines were dropping viscously in our residential neighborhoods. The next morning the city manager, Randy Knight, and I drove the community to get a clearer picture of the devastation. Massive trees, limbs, and even small branches were laying everywhere, blocking roads and in some instances across driveways and homes isolating neighbors. However, we also witnessed what our community is about as people came to our truck, repeatedly telling us that they were out clearing a path for us and other city personnel to safely traverse the city to get to areas and people needing assistance.
Over the next days and weeks, we were flooded with requests to assist with power restoration, sanitary clean-up, emergency service calls, etc… However, we were overwhelmed by the strength of our community as people offered shelter, food, water and other necessities to assist those who were more adversely affected.
We are often divided by, upon review, relatively insignificant words and actions. Yet when the chips are down, we rally behind and alongside one another to be bigger than the divisiveness. As I write this note, almost a month after Irma paid us a visit, I am humbled by the respect that our community has shown towards the efforts of the emergency service, tree, electric utility, building, water and all other city and contracting personnel trudging through our community on our behalf. Thank you for your continued support, compassion, and patience during some of our most trying times. Regardless of our hopes and prayers, we know that we will eventually face these types of circumstances again. Seeing how we were able to positively and effectively react and respond, we’ll get through these times together and be that strong, unique city that we call home.
Steve Leary, Mayor