With welcome blue skies peeking from clouds late Monday morning, most of the roughly 25,000 evacuees who weathered Hurricane Irma in 23 Manatee public school shelters packed out.
Their sheer numbers, the size of a small town, has left the School District of Manatee with literally tons of garbage to be removed from school Dumpsters, as well as 23 schools to be evaluated for storm damage, spokesman Michael Barber said Monday.
All of the shelter schools also must be attacked by the district’s cleaning crews before classes can resume on Monday, Sept. 18, Barber added.
The school district on Monday evening announced that schools would be closed for the rest of the week.
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Barber said 26 schools were without power Monday night, and every district school sustained some damage from the hurricane.
All athletic events and practices and extracurricular activities are canceled until school resumes.
School shelters operated smoothly
Like her staff and probably like principals in all 23 shelter schools, Prine Elementary School principal Lynne Menard went without a shower from Thursday through Monday while she supervised shelter operations.
“I kind of washed up a bit like everyone else,” Menard said with a grin around 9:30 a.m Monday when all but a few stragglers had left her school, which held 1,197 evacuees.
Menard couldn’t say enough about how her staff handled the crisis as well as the performance of members of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and National Guard assigned to her school.
She praised her “cool under pressure” assistant principal Caroline Hoffner.
But she got emotional talking about custodian Joel Hrkach.
Several of Hrkach’s fellow custodians at Prine left the area, leaving Hrkach by himself to keep the whole school running, Menard said.
“He was catnapping every two hours to be able to do everything he needed to do,” Menard said.
When the power went out at Prine Sunday night, including the backup power, Hrkach found one plug that still worked for an evacuee on oxygen.
Hrkach also fixed stopped-up toilets and fixed a faucet that wouldn’t quit running.
Menard also praised 100 evacuees who volunteered in the cafeteria sweeping floors and cleaning tables and emptying the garbage cans.
“All the evacuees were nice to us” Menard said. “My staff is caring so everything went smoothly.”
Across the county, evacuees at Haile Middle School in East Manatee were streaming for the exits Monday morning, shortly after the county pulled back its 3 p.m. curfew.
Among them: Melissa Aguilar, 18, of West Bradenton, who brought along her guitar and ukulele to keep her mother and younger sister entertained as they wiled away the pre-Irma hours in the school gymnasium.
“We’re from California and we’ve never been through a hurricane and I just wanted to be safe,” her mother, Leita, said of the decision to seek refuge at the shelter. They spent two nights at the shelter and had only rave reviews.
“It was a really safe place and they fed us and treated us really well,” Leita Aguilar said.
Herald Washington Bureau reporter Lesley Clark contributed to this story.