County, Palatka officials assessing storm damage

With a county and municipalities littered with debris and without power, local officials spent Monday assessing damage left behind in Hurricane Irma’s wake.

Although Irma was a Category 1 hurricane when the eye passed near Putnam County, the damage throughout the county is evident.

County Commissioner Bill Pickens said damage has been reported in all areas of the county, and no one knows how long it will take before the damage is repaired.

“We just got widespread damage throughout the county,” Pickens said. “A lot of the county is without power. Of course, it looks like it’s going to be a while before we get power.”

Pickens and other county, municipal, health and school leaders, among others, have congregated at the Emergency Operations Center in Palatka to get up-to-date storm assessments and disseminate information to county residents.

As of Monday afternoon, Pickens said, county Public Works employees and firefighters were driving throughout the county to remove debris and clear roads.

“There are some crews working today, and they will work until about 8 p.m.,” Pickens said Monday. “And then they’ll be out there tomorrow at 5 a.m.”

In addition to downed tree limbs and power lines, Pickens said, there have been reports of flooding in Dunns Creek and other South Putnam areas.

Pickens said even his yard, which is near the St. Johns River in South Putnam, has flooding higher than he has seen before.

Palatka Mayor Terrill Hill said his city also experienced flooding, especially near the intersection of Reid Street and State Road 19 and the smaller side roads in that area.

River Street also came close to flooding, Hill said.

Hill said he and other city officials spent Monday riding around the city to determine the extent of the damage, and they should know today how severely the hurricane affected the city.

“We’re riding around now,” he said Monday. “A lot of debris down, a lot of trees. We’ll know tomorrow for sure.”

Interlachen has its share of downed trees and blocked roads, Mayor Ken Larsen said. But there were no reports of flooding, severe home damage or deaths in the town, he said.

About 19,000 Florida Power & Light customers and 90 percent of Clay Electric customers were without power Monday.

Larsen said residents in Interlachen could account for a significant number of customers without power.

“Other than (downed trees and blocked roads), we fared pretty well,” Larsen said. “Pretty much the whole town is without power. I think everyone’s still hunkered down and recovering.”

Superintendent of Schools Rick Surrency said the school district is assessing how long shelters will be open, which in turn determines how long schools will be closed.

Shelters – located at Browning-Pearce Elementary, Kelley Smith Elementary, Middleton-Burney Elementary, Q.I. Roberts Junior-Senior High, Interlachen Elementary and Ochwilla Elementary – have been open since Saturday, but public schools throughout the county have been closed since Friday.

Surrency said schools are closed Wednesday, and district officials should know today whether schools would be closed Thursday.

“We’re assessing the damage now,” he said Monday. “We’re contacting the principals to go out to the schools. Our shelters will be open indefinitely until its safe for people to be able to go back to their homes.”