“God blessed us,” said Marcus Hayes as he surveyed what turned out to be a minimal amount of damage to his aunt’s home in Rubonia in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
“Everybody is walking around looking pretty happy,” he said. “We did really good here. There was no flooding, no real damage other than a few trees down. Everybody is just saying how blessed they feel.”
Blessed is how a lot of people in Manatee County were feeling Tuesday morning. Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said city hall would have opened Tuesday, but power wasn’t restored in time to get all of the computers up to speed.
“We even lost it at the police department,” Bryant said. “And public works didn’t get power until late yesterday, but we are functioning as a government. Driving through the city and watching everybody, I have to tell you, it’s heartwarming seeing people helping each other and I couldn’t go a block without seeing a public works or police vehicle. It’s been phenomenal.”
Several businesses in Palmetto were already opening Tuesday morning, including the Publix and even Checkers on Eighth Avenue West. Bryant said it brought tears to her eyes knowing how many people across the country were praying for everyone in Florida.
“At the end of the day, we are just so blessed,” she said.
Manatee County schools have been closed until Monday. The district has a different kind of cleanup to contend with after hosting more than 20,000 evacuees seeking shelter from the storm. School staff across the district are getting those schools that served as a shelter back in shape and ready for students to return Monday.
The term “dodged a bullet” has been widely used by officials and citizens alike. Rubonia resident Brandon Gibbs went through Hurricane Andrew in 1992 in Miami and said Rubonia, which frequently floods, wouldn’t have survived a direct hit from a Category 4 or higher.
Irma slammed into the Florida Keys and Naples as a Category 4 late Sunday, but weakened quickly as it moved inland up the state. Many in Rubonia took shelter elsewhere, including Hayes and Octavio Rojas, who evacuated to be with family living in Maryland. Rojas returned Monday evening to find a lot of branches and other small debris, but an apartment still intact.
“I was watching the storm on the news and thought we were going to be in real trouble,” Rojas said. “Even as it went up the middle, it looked like the entire state was getting it pretty bad, but we got pretty lucky in this area. It was a good feeling getting home to see I still had a place to live because I didn’t think I would. It feels pretty good that is everything is going to be OK.”