while Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
But it was Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in Florida on Sept. 10, that had the greatest impact on Osceola County residents.
Irma was the largest storm to impact the area since Hurricane Jeanne swept through in 2004, according to the Osceola County Emergency Management Operational Director Rich Halquist.
“Hurricane Matthew came through last year, but it didn’t make nearly the impact that Irma did this year,” Halquist said. “Thankfully, we were very well prepared for Irma, even though we didn’t have to deal with anything like this for over a decade.”
Halquist pointed to the record number of evacuation shelters opened in Osceola County before and after Hurricane Irma struck, including three pet-friendly shelters as well as one equipped to handle people with special needs.
Halquist said his department had two major advantages this season. The first was a well-connected statewide response system with other government agencies. The other was the response from residents and members of the community.
“People took it seriously, and we had good engagement on warnings and services,” Halquist said. “Sometimes people get complacent when there hasn’t been a major storm for a while, but we didn’t have that experience.”
Millions of residents across Florida lost power and suffered property damage in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Government officials tried to keep residents up to date via social media. The digital outreach proved effective, and Halquist said he would like to see departments continue to utilize these methods in the future.
“It is a good way to get information to the people,” he said. “People are online anyway, especially during a natural disaster. It was a good way to keep in touch with them.”
Debris pick-up has proven to be an ongoing issue facing officials two months after Irma. Osceola County spokesman Mark Pino said the solid waste department has made an initial pass through most of the county, and plans to make a second run for larger items like tree trunks and fallen fence sections in the near future.
“We had our debris contractors in place when the storm hit, so we were better prepared then some surrounding areas,” Pino said. “But still, it is a major undertaking and an ongoing process.”
The Solid Waste Department has collected more than 170,000 cubic square feet of debris since Hurricane Irma struck. Pino urged residents who still have not had their yard waste collected or are experiencing specific issues, to contact the…