Residents of Manatee County awoke Monday morning — if they slept at all — to calmer winds, the hope that Hurricane Irma spared their homes, and the good news that the 24-hour curfew has been lifted effective immediately.
Manatee County government announced shortly before 8:30 a.m. that the curfew, originally scheduled to end at 3 p.m., has been lifted. All bridge restrictions had been lifted except the Cortez Bridge, which still needs to be inspected for integrity.
By 2:30 a.m. Monday, winds had dropped below tropical storm force (39 mph) in Manatee County and law enforcement began the process of clearing the roads and identifying any major obstructions.
The sheriff’s office first deployed its majors and captains to begin clearing the roads and then their first-in teams. Those teams were scheduled to go out at 6 a.m., but a band of rain moving into Manatee County delayed them for a short time.
Just after 4 a.m., the sheriff’s office began dispatching deputies to 911 calls that were on standby in order of priority.
As of the 8 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Irma had been downgraded to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. The center was located about 120 miles north of St. Petersburg, and it was moving north-northwest at 18 mph. Most of the Florida peninsula, including Manatee County, is still under a tropical storm warning, meaning winds of at least 39 mph are possible for the next several hours. There is also a storm surge warning in effect for coastal areas.
Downed trees, tree branches, power lines, traffic lights and signs were the majority of what law enforcement was finding. Signs and branches were pulled out of the way when possible.
The storm’s winds peeled off the roof of the Whitfield Square strip mall in the 1200 block of Whitfield Avenue.
Neighbors in the apartment building next to the strip mall heard the commotion as the storm began to take the roof.
“We heard a banging and all of a sudden the roof started peeling off a little bit ast a time,” Greg DeSpin said.
Deputies are now investigating because there may be someone trapped under the rubble.
Complete darkness surrounded Buffalo Creek Middle School, Buffalo Creek Park and the surrounding subdivisions. Mills Elementary appeared to be powered by a generator.
Elsewhere in Manatee County, Lakewood Ranch Medical Center has reopened its emergency room.
As for the Tampa Bay area’s major bridges, the Skyway Bridge and Courtney Campbell Causeway remain closed to all traffic.
The Gandy Bridge and Howard Frankland are closed westbound, but eastbound lanes are open.