UF/IFAS lends helping hand during Hurricane Irma
Below are stories from UF/IFAS faculty, staff and volunteers helping Floridians affected by Hurricane Irma:
Twyla Leigh, UF/IFAS Extension Collier County director – Sept. 14
“The hurricane was scary for those who had to shelter in place, as well as, those who evacuated and feared they had lost everything.
Paula Springs, UF/IFAS Extension Collier County administrative assistant, came through on multiple levels throughout the hurricane event, including when our building was opened as a “shelter of last resort” on Saturday afternoon.
Paula and 4-H coordinator Trisha Aldridge came in and got the multipurpose room cleared with the help of Trisha’s family when the shelter directive came down. (We had secured our outdoor equipment in that area of the building at the end of the week for safety so there was much to relocate.) Desperate folks who had been turned away from over-filled shelters showed up, and Paula welcomed them and deescalated some tense situations. Within a few hours of the shelter’s opening, it was closed, and those who sought shelter in the Extension building were relocated to a well-established and stocked high school shelter as the winds picked up. This was a good call, given the “after” photos of our building. Yes, that is daylight coming through the roof. Besides hurricane winds, some have suggested the extensive building damage was the work of a tornado.
Paula, horticultural agent Dr. Doug Caldwell and I took shifts at the Collier County EOC. Paula was at the EOC with her young daughter for parts of three days, including during the intense hurricane with wind gusts in excess of 130 miles per hour. 4-H coordinator Arielle Pierce and our new sustainable food systems agent Jessica Ryals were key in making final storm preparations, along with Paula Springs and customer relations specialist Peggy McDonough.
Trisha, Arielle, Doug and Paula have joined me as “boots on the ground” in the initial damage assessment and recovery phase.
Most of the team is dealing with finding fuel (I waited in line for more than four hours Wednesday), the absence of electricity (I have reports that only three team members have power restored), lack of Internet and lack of or spotty cell service, making communication a huge challenge.
A temporary headquarters has been potentially identified at one of our county parks. Transition plans are being formulated including relocating salvageable equipment and program materials, setting up communication/technology networks and getting our team back in the business of much needed UF/IFAS Extension education for the citizens of Collier County.”
B.J. Jarvis, UF/IFAS Extension Citrus County director – Sept. 10
Background: With a large storm surge expected in Citrus County, more shelter space had to be opened than originally planned.
A shelter opened at the Central Florida Community College, but the shelter didn’t have food for the arrivals. Shelter staff contacted UF/IFAS Extension Citrus County to see if they could help.
“We had water, coffee and cups in our office, but we knew that wasn’t going to go very far.
“Extension was called on to provide food for the 150. While we have found food for tonight, we are still trying to find food for tomorrow and moving forward. Many in the ag community including our new Farm Credit rep who are responding to our requests for which we are eternally grateful. Publix contacts said that they would be willing to help tomorrow as soon as hurricane force winds are past. Also appreciate the efforts of my county’s ag agent, Clay Cooper, who has made many of these contacts. Got our fingers crossed that we can continue to provide food as meal times come up.”
Whitney Elmore, UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County director – Sept. 10
“We’ve got a great team and we’ll get back on mission ASAP. Just be safe, flexible and patient. I have seen the power of being both a UF and Pasco employee throughout this process. We’ve lead much of what I’ve witnessed and I’m very proud of you all. We’ve coordinated with the Pasco BOCC, Pasco School District, National Guard, Pasco Sheriff’s Office, Pasco Animal Services Pasco Health Dept and the Disaster Management Assessment Team from Washington. We’ve got births taking place, assisting folks suffering heart attacks, pets needing medication, we’re helping to literally feed thousands, helping detect weapons, registering families and I’ve even answered a call about Brazilian Pepper and one about cattle all in one day… Extension really is everything to everybody.”
Seemanti Chakrabarti, volunteer at UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center – Sept. 10
“I help Dr. Uli Stingl and Dr. Martens-Habbena in their Microbial Ecology lab. I live with my family in Coral Springs. We decided to stay back in town and brace the hurricane. My neighbor works for an assisted living facility at Lauderhill and mentioned that they would need help during the hurricane period as they were short on staff. We decided to volunteer at this facility. They have been very kind to give us a room to stay. So far we helped serve food and calm the residents down.”
Collen Larson, UF/IFAS Extension regional dairy agent – Sept. 9
“Here in Okeechobee we have been getting bands from Irma throughout the day. The first band was at about 10 a.m. Unfortunately, it had a lot if lightning and a power line that supplies a 1,600-cow dairy was damaged. The dairy producer called the electric cooperative and was told there was no way the power could be restored before the storm. For most area dairies, this was scheduled to be a full day of preparations with power, not a day to start running on a generator when fuel supplies are already a concern.
I called the electric cooperative and the FDACS emergency operations to help explain the situation. The electric co-op would not promise anything, but I encouraged them to look into any possible solutions. There was a down line and conditions were not safe to have linemen on the air. I asked if there were any other options. Finally, after a few hours, they were able to reroute power to the dairy. This allowed the dairy to continue preparations, operate normally (keep cows comfortable) and save their limited supply of fuel for after the storm.
We still have power now, so we are baking cookies for some of the farms for tomorrow.”