The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group has extended the local state of emergency declared last Wednesday regarding Hurricane Irma for an extra seven days.
“Going into the disaster recovery mode, ensuring that the cost and the efforts of the recovery and recoverable … is much easier to accomplish if the local state of emergency is still in place, “County Administrator Mike Merrill said Tuesday in announcing how officials with the group came to that conclusion.
The other reason is that there still remain concerns about the flooding with some of the rivers in the eastern part of the county. Those include the Little Manatee River, the Alafia River, Cypress Creek Preserve and the Hillsborough River.
“We’re watching them very closely, day by day, hour by hour,” says Preston Cook, the county’s director of emergency management.
There was minimal storm surge on the west coast of Florida, something that “would have been devastating” if it had occurred, Cook says.
Commission Chair Stacy White, who represents that part of the county, says that residents who live along those corridors have experienced similar situations after major rainstorms. “Not to sound like a cliché, but we can replace property and homes and things like that, we can’t replace a life,” he said.
Merrill said it will take a little while to assess the total physical damages to the county, but because the storm was not as intense as predicted, it will be easier to get the job done quicker. He and White also had high praise for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for having a local representative on hand.
“It just cuts through all the red tape and all of the middle men,” Merrill said. “It’s really a brilliant idea for FEMA to do that.”
The other huge issue in the county (as in all of Florida) remains a lack of power for hundreds of thousands of people. Cook, who lives near Brandon, is one of the more than hundred thousand in the county suffering without air-conditioning and other basic amenities at his home. “I’m in the same boat as a lot of folks in our community. That’s what this storm is. It’s still ongoing.”
Gordon Gilette, the president and CEO of Tampa Electric, is scheduled to address the media later Tuesday.
The Emergency Policy Group is composed of three County Commissioners and the mayors of the cities of Plant City, Tampa, and Temple Terrace, and the Hillsborough Sheriff, though not all of those officials attended Tuesday’s meeting.