Law enforcement took to the streets of Manatee County hours before daybreak Monday to survey the damage that Hurricane Irma left behind after being saved from a direct blow from the storm.
Irma made landfall for a second time in Florida over Marco Island on Sunday night. The eye passed over Hardee County, never delivering a direct hit to Manatee County, keeping the worst weather off to the east.
“I am very happy to report we haven’t had any significant damages ... We have no injuries that have been reported from the storm,” Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells said.
Massive power outages, like elsewhere in Irma’s path in Florida, and downed traffic lights were the most significant effects seen by Manatee County residents. More than half the county’s traffic lights were not working as of Monday afternoon, but most roads were open. At many intersections, deputies or police were helping to direct traffic.
By 2:30 a.m., winds had dropped below tropical storm force (39 mph) and law enforcement began the process of clearing the roads and identifying any major obstructions.
The sheriff’s office first deployed its upper ranks, including majors and captains, to begin clearing the roads and reporting back to dispatch any downed trees, tree branches, power lines, traffic lights and signs, which was the majority of what was found. Signs and branches were pulled out of the way when possible.
The Bradenton and Palmetto police departments also began to do the same within both city limits.
Before 4 a.m., deputies were back out on the road and were being dispatched to standby 911 calls in order of priority. Twelve hours before, all first responders had sought shelter and stopped responding to calls when sustained winds reached 45 mph.
During the time first responders were hunkered down, about 20 calls to 911 were placed on standby. Of those calls there were two urgent. One was to report the death of a woman who died of natural cause. The other was for a stabbing, but the patient was later treated at a hospital for the non-life threatening wound.
Deputies also responded to the 5300 block of Sixth Street East after a tree, whose roots had grown under a home’s foundation, fell toward the street, lifting the ground out from under the home, according to Wells. The family was pulled out to safety by deputies.
Seven first-in tactical teams included sheriff’s office deputies, fire crews, Bradenton police officers, Florida Highway Patrol troopers, paramedics and Florida Power & Light workers who had been stationed throughout the county. The teams had been scheduled to go out at 6 a.m., but a band of moderate rain that moved in delayed their start.
“We do have a lot of debris on the roadway. We still have a lot of cleanup to do,” Wells said. “Power lines are down. We are having to assess the damage and close certain roadways down as we find that.”
Wells asks residents to remember to treat any intersection where the traffic lights are not working like a four-way stop.
“Our biggest concern now is that people are able to drive around now and assess their damage, not everyone else’s, but their damages,” Wells said. “But we want you to be safe, and just understand that there is a lot of debris on the roadway and you’ve got to be careful.”