ASSESSING DAMAGE

Congressman visits Putnam to view areas hit hardest

Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho visited Putnam County on Friday to assess the damage Hurricane Irma inflicted on the county, offer additional resources and get a firsthand look at the areas hardest hit by the storm.

The congressman, who represents the state’s Third District, sat in on a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Palatka. Afterward, Yoho took a tour of hard-hit areas, including Federal Point and Welaka, where he owns a home.

Speaking to a room full of local officials and volunteers, Yoho commended them and everyone who pulled together to help areas recover from hurricane.

“I’m always amazed when you look at operations like this … to see what happens behind the scenes to make things happen,” Yoho said. “That’s what makes America great. That’s what makes this county great.”

State, county, municipal, emergency and other officials have been hunkered down at the Emergency Operations Center since before the hurricane, gathering information, answering local residents’ calls and finding ways to assist people throughout the county.

Putnam County Sheriff’s Office deputies escorted Yoho and other officials to Sportsman Harbor in Welaka, parts of which are still flooded.

Local emergency officials were continuing to determine the extent of damage done to structures in the county.

Ryan Simpson, the interim Putnam County Emergency Management coordinator, said no deaths were reported in the county, as of Friday afternoon. He said there was $14 million dollars in damage done to residential and commercial buildings.

Because of hurricane damage, Simpson said, 14 structures were destroyed, 120 sustained major damage, 198 sustained minor damage and 242 were “affected.”

Despite flood and wind damage throughout the county, Irma wasn’t as bad as originally thought, Yoho said.

“We look back a year ago with (Hurricane) Matthew … and we thought, ‘It’ll be a while before we see another one,’” Yoho said. “This one, we are lucky it wasn’t as bad as it (could have been).”

Local officials said they have been working with, outside government agencies and local organizations to provide help for county residents, many of whom are still without power, live on roads that are blocked or flooded or are still in shelters because their homes have not been deemed safe to enter.

Yoho encouraged local officials to continue assessing damage and work together to help the county rebuild. Whatever resources are needed, he said, officials should reach out to him and his staff.

In the aftermath of natural disasters like Irma, people must be willing to think outside the box to find and expedite solutions to blocked roads, gas shortages and other problems that arise.

“What I’d like to do is find out the critical things you need help with,” Yoho said. “What we’ve heard in other places is communication is a big part of that. … If you guys run into any of those snags, we can think outside the box. We have to get this situation taken care of, and we can be (better) prepared next time.”