Though many woke up Wednesday morning still without power, crews were working to restore electricity throughout Manatee County, and residents were out cleaning up as well.
On Wednesday, the major disaster declaration for Florida was expanded to include individual assistance for 37 counties including Manatee and Sarasota. The initial declaration had been approved hours after Gov. Rick Scott’s request on Sunday to authorize federal funding for Floridians impacted by Hurricane Irma, and to reimburse local communities and the state government.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump will visit the Naples and Fort Myers area, one of the hardest hit locations in the state, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced Wednesday. Trump tweeted that he “will be traveling to Florida tomorrow to meet with our great Coast Guard, FEMA and many of the brave first responders and others.”
The cost of Hurricane Irma — including preparation and recovery efforts — is nearing $250 million and rising, and that’s just for Florida, according to Bay News 9.
Volunteers and Manatee County School District staff worked Wednesday to clean shelters that held a record number of evacuees — more than 25,000 people — during the storm.
Manatee County schools remain closed until Monday.
Thousands still without power
As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, 51,307 Manatee County customers were without power.
There were 50,640 Florida Power & Light customers and 667 Peace River Electric Cooperative customers still affected by outages.
That’s 24.5 percent of Manatee County still waiting for power to be restored, a decrease from 37 percent at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
As of about 6 p.m. in Sarasota County, there were 78,460, or 30 percent, still without power, according to FPL.
Power is being restored at a clip about four times faster than the response to Hurricane Wilma in 2005, officials said.
“We are aggressively restoring power and we are making progress,” Robert Gould, FPL vice president and chief communications officer, said in Wednesday morning’s press briefing. “We’re encouraged by where we find ourselves in the restoration process.”
Officials ask for patience as crews from more than 30 states and Canada work to restore power.
As of noon, power had been restored to 3 million homes and businesses across the state, according to Gov. Rick Scott.
A boil water notice is still in effect for Anna Maria Islanders as wastewater pumps are affected by the lack of electricity.
Officials eyeing traffic, potential flooding of bridge
Evacuation traffic has once again taken over interstates, this time as people return home.
The Florida Department of Transportation is monitoring a small bridge at mile marker 408 on Interstate 75 in Alachua County that could become impassable due to heavy rain over North Florida from Hurricane Irma.
Officials are watching the bridge over the Santa Fe River, which rose 15 feet in the last 36 hours, according to FDOT. As of Wednesday morning, the river was safe, but it is expected to crest at historic and unprecedented levels in the coming days.
As of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, U.S. 41 and U.S. 27 were shut down near the Santa Fe River because of heavy flooding. They issued maps with detour details.
Should I-75 flood at the river, DOT will reroute traffic to U.S. 19, U.S. 301 and I-95. Motorists can consult FL511.com for up-to-date information on road closures and travel routes.
In Manatee County, the Fort Hamer bridge — which was opened early specifically to help with storm-related traffic — will close again at 8 p.m. Monday so crews can complete remaining work.
Pet redemption, adoption fees waived
The Manatee County Animal Services shelters opened Wednesday and waived adoption fees for all dogs and cats, due to overcapacity.
MCAS is beyond maximum capacity, holding 163 dogs and 118 cats. They are currently not accepting owner surrenders.
Owners can also redeem their lost pet at no charge, but proof of ownership is required. The stray hold will be extended to 30 days so pets lost during the storm can be reunited with their owners.
MCAS is also looking for donations of bleach, laundry detergent, dish soap and canned cat food. They are also asking for experienced volunteers at the Downtown Bradenton Cat Adoption Center and to help walk dogs starting at 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday.
Irma’s death toll
At least 23 people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have died in Irma-related circumstances including vehicle and storm preparation, according to the Miami Herald. A Tampa man died after the chainsaw he was using to remove branches kicked back and cut his carotid artery.
Irma killed at least 36 people when she struck the Caribbean last week.
Eight people died in a Hollywood nursing home after an issue with the air conditioning system forced an evacuation. All 115 patients were taken to area hospitals.
Fraud task force
Anticipating fraudulent activity as cleanup efforts began after Hurricane Irma, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida has created a Disaster Fraud Task Force to investigate, prosecute and deter fraud. The Middle District of Florida includes 35 of Florida’s 67 counties, including Manatee County, and serves more than 11.5 million Florida residents with offices in Jacksonville, Orlando, Ocala, Tampa and Fort Myers.
“We will aggressively investigate and prosecute anyone who seeks to defraud or exploit the federal assistance programs established to help individuals, families, or businesses that have lost so much as a result of Hurricane Irma,” Acting U.S Attorney Muldrow said in a statement.
Suspected fraud can be reported to the National Disaster Fraud Hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week toll free at 866-720-5721. Reports can also be emailed to email@example.com or faxed to 225-334-4707. For more information, visit: justice.gov/usao-mdfl.
Getting free legal help after Irma
Homeowners, renters and business owners in Manatee County can apply for federal disaster assistance for uninsured and under-insured damages and losses resulting from Hurricane Irma, according to the City of Bradenton.
Damage and losses and flooding must have occurred as a result of Hurricane Irma, beginning on Sept. 4. Survivors should register with FEMA as soon as possible. Registration can be done online at DisasterAssistance.gov or on the FEMA app. Registration can also be completed by calling 800-621-3362 between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. seven days a week.
Applicants will need to provide their Social Security Number, phone number, current mailing address, address of the damaged property and private insurance information.
A legal aid hotline is now available for Hurricane Irma survivors in Florida who cannot pay for an attorney at 1-866-550-2929, according to the Florida Bar.
Qualified Floridians will be matched with Florida lawyers who have volunteered to provide free legal help with topics such as:
▪ Securing FEMA benefits
▪ Making insurance claims
▪ Working with contractors for repairs
▪ Replacing important legal documents
▪ Consumer protection matters
▪ Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems or landlord or tenant issues
Instructions for callers will be provided in English and Spanish. Callers will be asked to leave a message with their name, telephone number, county of residence, and a description of their legal problems. Calls will be returned two business days between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, according to the Florida Bar.
Additional Florida Bar resources and information are listed at www.floridabar.org/hurricaneinfo.
The Citizens Information Center in Manatee County will remain open through Friday, operating from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Herald business/sports editor Mike Garbett contributed to this report.
▪ For all the latest news involving the aftermath and cleanup efforts from Hurricane Irma, go to Bradenton.com.
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