The Town of Loxahatchee Groves survived Hurricane Irma, clearing all the roads so they were passable. However, the town was still operating without electricity at town hall as of Thursday, Sept. 14, despite assurances that it would have full power shortly after the storm due to its proximity to Palms West Hospital.
“We went through all 57 miles of roads and cut trees and moved trees and moved brush off the roads to make sure that everybody could get through,” Town Manager Bill Underwood told the Town-Crier on Thursday. “We finished that yesterday.”
In contrast to Tropical Storm Isaac in 2012, there was little or no flooding as a result of Irma, Underwood said.
“It doesn’t seem like there was a lot of water with this one,” he said. “All the water in the canals were reduced in order to make sure there was plenty of capacity, so I think the water situation was nothing like we’ve seen in the past. I didn’t hear of any floods. The ground was saturated, so some of the trees toppled.”
Underwood said that he and some staff members were doing business from their vehicles due to the lack of power at town hall since Irma’s first approach.
“I have been working out of my car all week. Today, we actually produced next week’s agenda in the back seat of my car,” he said, referring to the next council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. “We’ve got it posted on the web site. That is without any internet connection or electricity, except by use of our private phone service. The disappointing factor is that we have been without electricity since last Saturday, so tomorrow will be a solid week, and they have yet to turn it on. I finally saw an FPL representative today who looked in and said, ‘Oh, you don’t have any lights.’ I said, ‘No we don’t, and this is town hall.’”
He said the reason the town did not buy a generator for town hall was that he had checked with Florida Power & Light and was advised that the building is on the same grid as the hospital.
“They have breaker switches on the electric, and if they were one pole to the north, I’d have power. Then I would be on the same grid as the hospital. But that’s not an excuse; they should still come and handle the town’s business,” Underwood said. “We’ve had people come in, and we can’t help them.”
He said other staff members have kept busy with paperwork that does not involve electronics.
Despite the difficulties, Underwood considers the town fortunate that Irma veered west of earlier forecasts that had the eye directly over Palm Beach County.
“Some people had some damage, obviously, but it could have been a lot worse,” he said. “We could have been Fort Myers or Naples or Key West.”
Underwood said that the town’s contractor, Bergeron Land Development, which is also the town’s FEMA cleanup contractor, has been on the job with initial road clearing and repair.
“They did what is called the first crush, that’s the first 72 hours, to move stuff off the road, getting it out of the way,” he said, explaining that they had about 10 employees a day for 10 to 11 hours a day for the better part of three days.”
He noted that some of the work was slowed down by well-meaning individuals who pushed the trees into canals or onto the side of the road.
“I’m not sure who the individual was, but there was a citizen trying to assist the town, but it created a little bit of an issue,” Underwood said. “They didn’t clear it the way it needed to be cleared in order to remove the debris. It was pushed off. There was a tree that got pushed off into the A Canal that we couldn’t get.”
That did cause some delays in the work flow.
“We spent a lot of time up on North D Road yesterday, probably at least six hours, and some other areas that were problematic, but we got it all done,” Underwood said.
He said that the town’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) was active during and after the event, with a member that was stationed at the county’s Emergency Operations Center.
“They made sure that residents have access if they need medical attention or issues relative to that to make sure they’re OK,” Underwood said. “I think most people were inconvenienced, but I think most people understood, because we were closing pieces of road while we were doing this work, and people would have to go other ways.”
Some repairs will be required. For example, a culvert collapsed on North B Road just north of Morrow Court on Monday morning.
“It gave way and the district did send somebody out, and they threw a bunch of dirt into it. We’re going to have to address that at some point because I would suspect that given sufficient rain, it would wash completely away,” Underwood said. “That culvert didn’t appear as though it was even existing. That’s going to be a problem.”