Hurricane Irma swept through Florida in a matter of hours, but the impacts across the community still linger. Irma was the fifth costliest U.S. Atlantic hurricane in history, coming in at $53.4 billion of estimated property damage.
The storm formed August 30 and dissipated September 13, hitting Southwest Florida on September 10. The storm hit maximum wind speeds of 180 miles per hour. Throughout Florida, at least 84 people died in storm-related incidents, according to the National Hurricane Center.
A year later, we look back at the industries and the people Hurricane Irma has forever impacted. From citrus workers, to homeowners, everyone has a story from the historical storm:
Hurricane Irma Forecast
Hurricane Irma was a challenge for meteorologists to forecast because of how quickly it changed and developed.
It started as a tropical storm on August 30, 2017. Tropical storms typically move counter-clockwise bringing a lot of precipitation and thunderstorms, with winds above 39 miles per hour. Within 24 hours, it turned into a hurricane.
“It had an environment with very warm waters, a lot of moisture but also very low wind shear, and that primarily allowed it to intensify quickly,” said Tony Sadiku, a meteorologist at Fox 4 in Cape Coral, Florida, who forecasted the hurricane as it moved across our area.
On September 6, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Irma as a Category 5 hurricane, reaching wind speeds up to 155 mph. That same day, the hurricane hit Barbuda, St. Martin and the British Virgin Islands. Just four days later, the storm hit Florida.
Irma hit the Florida Keys on September 10. It was a Category 4 hurricane, weakened and then made landfall in Marco Island. At that point, it was a Category 3 hurricane with max winds at 115 mph. Hurricane Irma blew over Marco Island and Naples, losing strength quickly. When it reached Fort Myers, it was a Category 2 hurricane and proceeded to Tampa.
In Lee County, more than 34,000 people decided to go to a hurricane shelter.
A 2016 Division of Emergency Management report said that Florida can’t support the more than six million Floridians that the state ordered to evacuate. The safe emergency shelter capacity can accommodate about 960,000 people. In the event of an emergency, head to your county’s public safety website to find out which shelters are open. Also it’s important to have a family evacuation plan and supplies before a hurricane hits.
Citrus & Farming
Many industries were impacted by Hurricane Irma. Some farmers are still recovering from the damage and waiting on federal funding.
“We lost lots and lots of money, we have to recoup and work harder for it, to recoup, probably going to take 2-3 years to overcome. It’s not only us, there’s a lot of neighboring farms that depend on it,” said Charles Obern, C&B Farms Vice President.
The Florida Commissioner of Agriculture estimated that the category three hurricane caused the Florida’s citrus industry to suffer $760 million in damages. “These growers are struggling…and we don’t know if they’ll be able to keep up with demand,” said Marshall Nathanson, who works with citrus growers at Fruit Scape.
Florida citrus growers anticipated producing 70 million boxes but because of damages from Irma, that number was 45 million boxes.
Laborers & Greenhouses
Mobley Plant World in LaBelle, Florida are also feeling the effects of Hurricane Irma.
“I haven’t recovered from last season yet,” Carol Howard said. “If I had to go through again this year what I went through last year…I don’t have the stamina left in me.” While the company is still recuperating, employees worry if another hurricane hits, it will become significantly worse.
“I didn’t imagine it was going to cause so much destruction,” Daisy Juarez said, who works as a seeding specialist at the farm. “I saw so much destruction when I came back to work. I didn’t think the job was going to continue.”
Seventeen greenhouses were destroyed by the hurricane causing $2 million in damages.
The winds were so strong during Irma, many roofs were damaged in Southwest Florida. Michelle Grojean, director of marketing at Crown Roofing, said many home and business owners didn’t realize they had damage from Hurricane Irma until the rainy season came.
“We’re getting calls and inspectors are going out and telling them, ‘yes this is hurricane damage,'” Michelle said, “and they aren’t finding out until a year later.”
The damage was so extensive that local roofers haven’t been able to keep up with the phone calls, requesting service. According to Michelle, all roofers in the area have a steady list from Hurricane Irma and the rainy season. If your home was damaged during Irma and you live in Lee County you can still get a tax break.
Here’s a look at how to get your home prepared in case of a hurricane.
Everglades Wonder Gardens
Some businesses were able to bounce back within a year after the hurricane. Nearly 100 trees were uprooted at Everglades Wonder Gardens. To help with the cost of clean-up, the tourist spot launched a GoFundMe campaign.
“Without the community and the volunteers we might still be cleaning up, it was quite the community effort,” said Thomas Hecker, President and CEO of Everglades Wonder Garden.
It raised $30,000 in donations to get the exotic garden back up and running.
Travel was impacted during Hurricane. Driving was difficult because of gas shortages.
Interstates I-75 and I-95 were gridlocked as people were evacuating. Airlines canceled nearly 7,000 flights in and out of Florida because of Irma.
“We were meeting several days before then with the airlines and our tenants and everybody involved in implementing our plan,” Jeff Mulder, executive director of Lee County Port Authority at Southwest Florida International Airport, said. “Once it was determined that they were going to cancel their flights starting late Saturday we took the steps we needed to take.”
440 flights were canceled at Southwest Florida International Airport, losing about $500,000. It’s important to have travel insurance as a precaution during hurricane season. Naples Municipal Airport was also impacted by Irma sustaining $2 million dollars in damage.
“We actually opened the airport about a day later to emergency responders,” Chris Rozansky said. “Hospital staff was flown in after the storm to provide additional support in the hospital that were often times shelters and housing people with extra medical needs.”
Now a year later, both airports are working on being better prepared for the next storm.
Everglades City & Chokoloskee Recovery
Tucked away in the everglades -- beyond the air boat tour signs you spot while traveling across Tamiami Trail -- are Everglades City and Chokoloskee. These two towns were hit by Hurricane Irma at a category 4 storm. Many buildings were either destroyed or suffered major damage. “Anything that was on the ground was flooded," Mayor Howie Grimm said. Mayor Grimm took office only five days before the storm hit.
Most buildings in town were damaged. A good 25 percent of them were uninhabitable. However, driving through the town a year later you wouldn't know that. That's because the community came together, alongside thousands of volunteers, to repair anything they could. Most businesses were re-opened within the first of the storm's aftermath. However, some damage still lingers.
New Nursing Home Guidelines
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities received a lot of attention after Hurricane Irma hit when 12 residents died at one outside of Miami.
Governor Rick Scott passed two bills that now require nursing homes and ALFs to have backup generators and 72 hours of fuel supply. Since it’s been a year since Hurricane Irma hit, we looked to see if facilities in Southwest Florida meet the new requirements. To our surprise more than half of the nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties still haven’t implemented the new laws. Many of the facilities have applied for an extension until January 2019.
Power & Gas
Almost seven million people evacuated the state last year during the storm — the largest evacuation in U.S. history. Lee County Electric Cooperative had more than 170,000 customers without power after Hurricane Irma. Florida Power & Light didn’t answer our questions about outages.
“Within three days, we had about 60 to 70 percent of our customers restored,” Karen Ryan with LCEC said. “Within a week, that was all the way up to 85 to 90 percent restored.” Emergency facilities got first priority.