Officials: No crime spike in aftermath

As Hurricane Irma struck Putnam County, law enforcement officials reported no incidents at shelters and limited crime.

“During the height of the storm, there was a medical call with a head injury at (the) Middleton-Burney (Elementary School) shelter,” Putnam County Sheriff’s Office Col. Joe Wells said.

Wells said rescue personnel were grounded due to the intensity of winds in the area, but medical staffing from the National Guard treated the patient until a rescue crew could arrive.

Stationed out of Camp Blanding, Wells said this was the first time Putnam County received a medical unit from the National Guard.

“They were a huge help,” Wells said.

At the special needs shelter at Kelley Smith Elementary School, Wells said, generators began to fail during the height of the storm.

“We sent a chainsaw crew and a Humvee to retrieve a Putnam County School District technician to repair the generator,” Wells said. “We had to cut trees to get to him. It took a while but we got him.”

Wells said after the technician fixed the generator at the special needs shelter, he repaired another generator at Palatka Health Care that was failing.

“We had several things going on at once during the storm,” Wells said. “Palatka Health Care not only had a failing generator, but was also beginning to flood.”

Wells said Palatka Public Works sent crews to dig temporary drainage for the facility, which houses more than 150 residents.

Wells said the technician also helped fix a generator for the communications center.

“We fed him breakfast before we took him home,” Wells said.

Wells said statistics do not show a significant increase in crime in Putnam County. However, with widespread power outages in the county, Wells said curfews continued Monday night and were expected to continue in the near future.

“The electric companies have said it could be up to two weeks before power is completely restored,” Wells said.

Additionally, Wells said, double shifts for patrol officers would continue for the foreseeable future.

“We will evaluate day-to-day,” Wells said.

Wells and Putnam County Fire and EMS Battalion Chief Paul Flateau said with damage still being assessed and power outages, shelters in Putnam County would remain open.

“We are keeping shelters open as long as they are needed,” Flateau said. “We have not discussed anything about closing shelters.”

Wells said those currently using shelters were told their homes might not be safe.

“From my observation, there seems to be more flooding,” Wells said. “Deputies are reporting more roofing material and other debris on the road. There are a lot of trees down.”

During Irma, Wells said a hoax emergency call was placed to the Communications Center.

“The call was a 1-year-old child fell into the St. Johns River,” Wells said.

Wells said quickly responders realized the call could be fake, but resources were diverted to the area.

“This consumed a tremendous amount of resources,” Wells said. “A concern was the call was placed to distract law enforcement from potential looting.”