Saturday, November 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Despite a few nicks, residents express relief after Irma passes over Dade City

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DADE CITY — Sandra Cunningham stood in her back yard on Church Avenue, Starbucks chilled mocha in hand, and stared at the broken water oak that crashed through her roof into her bedroom.

"Oh mercy," Cunningham murmured.

She took a few steps for a different angle. "Oh, mercy."

Hurricane Irma targeted Dade City, its weakened eye passing right over town between 2 and 3 a.m. Monday, according to the many who hunkered down to wait it out.

"You could feel it blowing," said Homer Bryant, a disabled veteran who stayed home with his 90-year-old mother, tracking Irma's path on a cell phone.

When residents emerged, they found massive trees blocking the major thoroughfares, smaller ones dragging down power lines, and still others littering yards and parks.

Linda Ray weathered Irma in Ridge Manor, fearful the winds would peel back the roof of her mobile home, or the tallest trees would take it out. When she returned, her home was fine, but her 82-year-old mom's house had half the roof in the back yard.

"I pulled in this morning and saw this and thought, 'Oh, man,' " Ray said, adding she was glad to have evacuated her mom with her. "It really freaked me out."

But the house wasn't leaking, Ray said, so the plan was for her mother to return, wait for the power to come back on and figure out what to do.

Cunningham hadn't decided whether to stay in her home, with the tree splitting her roof and the flooded rooms below. She said she owns a property maintenance business, and has plenty of contacts to get good contractors out for repairs.

She contemplated staying, as her 100-pound mastiff-hound-pitbull mixes, Mac and Toby, don't do well with others. They are why she didn't seek shelter from the storm, too.

Instead, she spent the time in her living room, away from the side of the house where she anticipated the tree could smash in.

"It's going to be a project," she said. But she was calm about the situation. "It's nature. It's the way it's supposed to be."

She paused and chuckled.

"I needed this tree out anyway, because my pool is always cold," she said. "Material things can be fixed and replaced."

By midday Monday, Dade City residents had begun to seek relief from the onslaught of debris and the lack of power. The roads began to fill up with cars and trucks, families walked through town and teens shot hoops in the parks.

Many stopped at Beef 'O'Bradys downtown. It had remained open longer than nearly every other business in the city, late into Saturday night.

The word "open" painted in big bold letters on all the plywood were a natural attractor, with most other restaurants shuttered and the grocery and convenience stores closed too.

But Monday afternoon, Beef's was not open. There was no power, leaving the food to begin defrosting and the beer to get warm.

"We've been in contact with TECO," owner Todd Batchelor said. "If they can get us up and open, we can feed the crews."

Heather Crowson and Drew Cooner were among the residents who hoped for sooner, rather than later. They had hurricane snacks at home, but were ready for some more substantial fare, having lost electric themselves nearly 24 hours earlier.

They had limited damage at home, and needed an outlet from their two kids, who were getting bored without their electronic devices. They left empty-handed but planned to be back.

"At least we know how to get home now," Cooner said. "We've found all the blocked roads."

Because Pasco County had residents displaced by trees, flooding and other problems, it kept open some shelters.

Superintendent Kurt Browning, who was out touring schools in east Pasco, said he decided to let parents know early that classes won't resume until Monday. That gives staff a chance to clean up after the shelters, which housed more than 18,000 people plus many pets.

He also wanted to make sure teachers had a chance to get their families, and then their classrooms, in order before kids return. The district has not yet determined how students will make up the days, though. It could mean losing some of Thanksgiving vacation, Browning noted, depending on whether the state will waive some of the required instructional hours.

The School Board will have to decide on the schedule at some point.

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