Friday, November 24, 2017

Editorial: Remaining patient after Irma


There is no getting around it. Returning to normal after Hurricane Irma, even in very fortunate Tampa Bay, is going to take a while. Hundreds of thousands of Tampa Bay households on Tuesday remained without power, traffic signals were still out at hundreds of intersections and public schools throughout the region will be closed until Monday. We need to continue to be resourceful, helpful to our neighbors — and patient.

Nearly 6 million households statewide were without electricity Tuesday as Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy and Tampa Electric brought in thousands of workers to help restore power. That sense of urgency will have to stay elevated for days, and the utilities should keep their customers as well-informed as possible about the progress without raising false hopes. Being without lights and air conditioning is an inconvenience for anyone, but it also can be a public health and safety issue for many. The utilities are properly prioritizing repairs that can get power to the most people, but state and local officials should keep watch on their performance.

Sanitation crews on both sides of the bay are working diligently. In Tampa, crews began before dawn Tuesday collecting trash, and beginning Thursday will collect storm debris for the next month. Garbage trucks are rolling in St. Petersburg and brush sites are open. Hillsborough County extended its state of emergency an additional week over concerns about river flooding that was expected Tuesday.

With so many traffic signals still out, accidents at intersections remain a key concern. Motorists blowing through these intersections are endangering themselves and others, and everyone should treat these intersections as four-way stops. The driver on the widest, busiest street does not have the automatic right-of-way.

In other ways, the bay area is getting back on its feet. Groceries reopened Tuesday. So did the area airports and ports. At least three vessels carrying petroleum were expected at Port Tampa Bay late Tuesday, which will help get gas across the bay area and all of Central Florida.

The coming days will also expose the breadth of Irma's destruction. Some 400 shelters are still open in Florida, housing 94,000 people, including 17,000 with special needs. Search and rescue teams began operating in the Keys on Tuesday, and crews across Florida are assessing the strength of roads, bridges, water and sewer systems and other vital public infrastructure. The state has created helpful new online assistance for residents to access disaster aid and apply for insurance claims. With other parts of the state experiencing more serious damage and more difficult challenges, the bay area needs to be patient. It could easily have been worse here.

This is a time for everyone to do what they can. If you don't need those two cases of water, give them to someone who does. Help a neighbor clean up. Make a donation of time or money to charity. It has been incredible to see the outpouring of people in this community helping others. That sense of community spirit, coming second nature, has kept people fed and housed, helped to clear the roads, provided care for pets and brought some order to the chaos. If the pattern continues, every day will get better.


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