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Got Hurricane Irma questions? Here are some answers

A sunken houseboat lies at a small marina behind a hotel on Clearwater Beach on Thursday after the passing of Hurricane Irma.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

A sunken houseboat lies at a small marina behind a hotel on Clearwater Beach on Thursday after the passing of Hurricane Irma.

We're now four days into the post-Irma era in Florida, and people still have questions about the aftermath and recovery. Here are a few answers.

Services

After Irma hit here, I'm going to have a hard time paying my mortgage. Will the mortgage company foreclose on me?

Maybe not — it's up to you. Because Florida has been declared a federal disaster area, that means you can get your mortgage payment waived for a set amount of months, with no damage to your credit. It's not automatic, though. You have to contact your mortgage lender and apply for it. Each lender may have a different set of rules, so be sure you know what you're getting into before you say yes to this.

I've got power back finally. Why isn't my Internet or cable working?

Congrats on getting your power back, but those three things aren't really connected. While restoring electrical power will sometimes restore Spectrum Internet and cable services, in some cases, a power outage miles away might prevent a distribution hub from delivering what you want, said a spokesman for Spectrum's parent company, Charter Communications. A spokesman for Frontier Communications said they have found no long-term damage to their network. If you want to get a prorated bill so you don't have to pay for the service while it was out, call the company's customer service line — but be prepared for a long wait.

I have a friend who was in an evacuation zone that got hit pretty hard, and now hasn't checked into Facebook since the storm. How can I check to see whether she's okay?

The American Red Cross has a website called "Safe and Well" that allows you check to see if your friend has registered there: bit.ly/1iLLS9q

My kid's still out of school and bored. Can we go to the library?

Maybe. Some library locations have reopened but some have not. As with homeowners, they have issues with power, air conditioning and Internet outages. For instance, in St. Petersburg, only the main library branch is open and it's offering limited services. In Hillsborough County, a number of libraries reopened but all library programs have been canceled. Check with your local library before making the drive. By the way, if you have any overdue books, don't sweat the fine — until the system is back in operation, nobody is charging any fines.

On top of everything else going on, I need to renew my license plate, but the county office near my house is closed. When will that change?

In Pinellas County, the tax collector's offices mostly reopen today. Check the county website for which ones are open before you go, so you don't waste gas. The Hillsborough offices re-opened Tuesday, except for a part of the North Tampa office, which had some water damage in its concealed weapons license area. All five Pasco County tax collector's offices opened Wednesday.

I bought a lot of food before the storm that I didn't use. Can I just take it back?

You could — but bear in mind that if it's perishable, the store will just throw it away. A Publix spokesman suggested that a better move would be donating it to a local food bank helping people recover from Irma.

I ordered stuff online before the storm, but it never got here. What happened?

We wish we knew. Amazon failed to respond to our request for comment on that or whether they're delaying the delivery date for items ordered in Florida since Irma. It sure looks like that's what they're doing. We do know that when people tried ordering things online from Walmart before Irma hit — bottled water, batteries and so forth — Walmart canceled the orders and refunded their money.

Traffic

Did the interstates close because of river flooding?

No, thank heavens. That would have really messed up evacuees' efforts to return home after the storm.

Are all the stop lights working now?

Nope. So once again, we're telling you: Treat each intersection without a functioning stoplight as if it were a four-way stop. And be very, very careful because not all Florida drivers know how to behave at a four-way stop. Or how to use turn signals.

Health

Why do people say the aftermath of a hurricane is just as dangerous as the storm itself?

Because so many people get hurt or even die during the aftermath and recovery period. They suffer from heat stroke and dehydration. Or they get electrocuted by downed power lines. Or they're injured or killed by chain saws. Or they are sickened or killed by carbon monoxide from generators. Or they suffer heart attacks while cleaning up debris. Folks, take it slow, stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, take plenty of rest breaks — and don't be afraid to ask your neighbors for help, either. We will get through this.

Are there any sort of special disease risks in the aftermath of a hurricane?

Yes. Irma left behind plenty of places with standing water where mosquito larvae can hatch, and then if your power is out, you are probably leaving your windows open at night, which lets all the bugs in. As we in Florida well know, mosquitoes can carry some foul diseases such as Zika. Empty out any containers of standing water and make sure you wear mosquito repellent. And if you see any dragonflies or bats, give a cheer — they eat mosquitoes.

I had flooding inside my house, but I hate to throw out everything that got wet. Am I running a health risk by keeping it?

Yes. Anything that got wet can develop mold and mildew, both of which can cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation. That means you should get rid of the wet stuff, including carpeting, wall boards and the insulation behind it. Don't risk salvaging material that looks dry but is located in a wet environment. Hidden water could still cause mold.

Sandbags

My sandbags got wet. Can I just dry them out and dump them in my kid's playground area?

Don't. Sandbags that came into contact with the floodwaters are all nasty now. They may be contaminated with sewage, oil and gas, lawn chemicals, pesticides and other hazardous chemicals. Don't even touch them with your bare hands. Bring them to your county's solid waste facility for free disposal. If they are clean, though, you can dump the sand out on your lawn and save the bag for the next hurricane.

Shelters

Lots of public schools served as shelters during Irma. Did any charter schools do the same?

Nope. And for a very good reason — they might turn into a death trap. State law does not require charters be held to the same tough construction guidelines for hurricane protections that traditional public schools are required to meet.

Who will foot the bill for all the shelters that opened during the hurricane?

You, the taxpayer, as always. And the costs are likely to be substantial because shelter operations included bus rides, meals, security and other staffing to take care of tens of thousands of evacuees in local schools. School districts will tally up their costs and submit them to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement.

Times staff writers Jeffrey S. Solochek, Ernest T. Hooper, Jonathan Capriel and Caitlin Johnston contributed to this story. Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

State hotline

If you have other questions about Irma recovery, call the state's emergency management hotline and the staff there can try to steer you in the right direction: Toll-free, 1-800-342-3557

Got Hurricane Irma questions? Here are some answers 09/14/17 [Last modified: Thursday, September 14, 2017 8:59pm]
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