Clearwater Parks & Recreation Hurricane Michael Deployment Cleanup Blog

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On October 10, 2018 Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida in Florida's panhandle as a category 4 storm. The storm was the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the United States with peak winds at 155 mph.  

The storm devastated areas in the panhandle, destroying almost everything in its path.  One area hit hard was Calhoun County, a small area just south of Mexico Beach where the eye of Hurricane Michael came on land.

On Nov. 4 Clearwater Parks & Recreation sent a four-person team (certified arborists, equipment operators, CDL drivers) with equipment (5 yard dump truck, Bobcat, pickup truck, track lift, chainsaws and hand tools) to help with the devastation up north. The team will be deployed for 10 days and will work 12 hour days to assist in cleanup of debris, etc. Here's their blog:

 

Day 1: Sunday, Nov. 4

We arrived at PBI this morning and finished our gear preparations. We left PBI at 10 a.m. eastern. We arrived in Grand Ridge at
5 p.m. central time and got our gear unpacked. We drove down to the Calhoun County Emergency Operations Center  (EOC) and met with John and Angela from the EOC and discussed the situation Calhoun County is in and the expectations of us as a crew. We also discussed the safety aspects of the jobs we have been given. We were given a list of addresses with descriptions of the tree issues existing. These addresses have been assigned to us and they have been routed. We are exempt from the 8 a.m. meeting because we will be having our own safety meeting and have an assigned list. This will also allow us to begin work at first light. We will have a post work day meeting at the EOC to allow the master list to be updated and receive assignments for the following day. Calhoun County is a county with a high poverty rate with less than 15,000 residents. Everyone we have talked to has been very thankful for us being here and the EOC coordinator is hoping with us here and the residents seeing us working this will help raise the communities spirits. Calhoun County has been forgotten in a lot of ways and hasn’t received a lot of assistance from the outside world. They only have 34 employees for the entire county. Thank you for allowing us to assist this community their need is extremely visible from everything we have seen. 

Matt Anderson 
City of Clearwater Parks and Recreation 
Landscape maintenance Coordinator 

  

Day 2: Monday, Nov. 5

Day two was a very long day. We started at 6 a.m. and ended at 8:30 p.m. We started the day at an elderly women’s house who lived alone. She had numerous large trees covering her entire driveway, trees in and through her well house, and two extremely large hazardous pine trees hanging over her entry to her house. She got power restored today because of our efforts and the efforts of a power company from Mississippi. She had been 26 days without power. She was so thankful that the city would send us all the way to Calhoun county to help her and her community. The second part of the day was spent removing 30 plus inch oak trees off an elderly couples house and driveway. They now have full access to the county road. The gentleman was so thankful he began to cry and told us he couldn’t thank us enough. We battled rain storms and equipment issues to accomplish our work today which was no small task. We assisted with the tarping of an elderly disabled couples house on our way to the EOC and was able to assist before it got to dark to see. We met with the EOC at length tonight strategizing for where we will be most effective in the morning and received a new list of addresses to start working on tomorrow. Assisting these residents has been a truly enriching experience and this journey is just getting started. Once again thank you for this opportunity to assist our neighbors to north.

Matt Anderson 
City of Clearwater Parks and Recreation 
Landscape maintenance Coordinator 

  

Day 3: Tuesday, Nov. 6

Day 3 was a trying day due to the weather since it was rainy most of the day. We worked at three different properties. Two of these properties can now have electric restored to the property. The property in the pictures below has had a leaky roof since the storm and was able to be tarped. Once the tarp passes inspection the power can be restored. Two of the homes we worked at today are for Emergency Operations Center (EOC) employees that have been working 12-hours-on, 12-hours-off almost straight since the hurricane.

The city of Clearwater has been continually praised for your efforts entrusting us to come and assist, and for the work we are doing. We met with the EOC tonight and assisted the EOC coordinator who is here assisting from Ohio. He has never dealt with a hurricane before. We answered a lot of tree related questions he had as well as capabilities of equipment that others are donating to assist with the cleanup efforts. This information is assisting in how they are processing the list of houses that need services. We only worked 13 hours today and are trying to keep it as close to 12 hours as we can but it is hard to stop helping folks that have such great need. We will continue to keep it as close as possible. Thank you all for your continued support.

Matt Anderson 
City of Clearwater Parks and Recreation 
Landscape maintenance Coordinator 

 

 

Day 4: Wednesday, Nov. 7

Today went well. We started with our safety meeting at 5:30 a.m. central time and after completing routine maintenance on the bobcat, track bucket, and saws we headed to our first address of the day. We had a list of 10 addresses and completed 7 off the list. Some of the addresses had trees on houses beyond our capabilities but we were able to clear driveways and report pertinent information to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Coordinator to assist them in planning how to utilize a crane to complete the work. 4 of the 7 houses will require a crane to finish the job.

The rain did hold off untill the second part of our day. It was torrential at times and we would stop and wait it out under a porch or pole barn and continue when it letup. The toughest thing is seeing how little some of the residents had before the storm, and seeing now how that has been reduced even more. 

Matt Anderson
City of Clearwater Parks and Recreation
Landscape maintenance Coordinator

Day 5: Thursday, Nov. 8

Since we got here we have been working in a town named Altha. We started in Altha today on a house pictured below. These are before and after pictures of the first house. This house is owned by a disabled women who lives alone. She was having access issues due to the tree debris and her power is hooked up but needs to be rerouted once the trees are removed. We worked to clear this house for 7 hours and got the job done. Below are the before and after pictures.

After completing the ticket for the house the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Coordinator called and wanted us to do some work in another community. The next town we went to was Kinard. The EOC coordinator wanted us to leave Altha and start spreading the love to other communities.

We finished our day in Kinard at the Kinard Volunteer Fire Department. The Firehouse was hit very hard and had no doors on the building and there was a large oak tree on the roof. We worked very hard to complete this difficult removal from the two story firehouse. We will be heading to Blountstown in the morning to start a new list of calls for service.

Matt Anderson
City of Clearwater Parks and Recreation
Landscape maintenance Coordinator

 

 

 

Day 6: Friday, Nov.9

Day six was another very productive day. Today marks 30 days since Hurricane Michael hit the panhandle. We pulled up to the second house of the day to find a 6-year-old little boy playing amongst tree debris and hazardous trees. We started removing the trees closest to the house and worked our way to the property line. The family was extremely happy that the tree debris was removed but most importantly  that the yard was safe for their son to play again. The pictures below are before and after of the yard and a picture with the family.

We assisted a total of 5 property owners today in the City of Blountstown which is the County seat of Calhoun County. We also assessed two properties that we will start tomorrow morning.

Since being on this trip I have been able to enjoy the company of three co-workers and friends. During this trip we have all gotten to know one another very well and have been living, working, and eating like a family. Tonight is the last night we are a family of four, because Chancee Anderson will be leaving us tomorrow for Union Training in GA. He will be truly missed for the remaining days of our mission. Chancee has a fantastic work ethic, positive attitude, and infectious laughter which makes working and living with him a pleasure. John McDowell made burritos which are pictured below for our last family meal. I cannot be prouder of the results this team has produced so far and am looking forward to see how many more families we can assist in the coming days. 

Matt Anderson
City of Clearwater Parks and Recreation
Landscape maintenance Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

Day 7: Saturday, Nov. 10

We assisted four properties and evaluated one that had trees on the structure beyond the capabilities of our equipment. The first homeowner was a lady that moved to the panhandle from Miami who had survived Hurricane Andrew. We assisted her with property access issues and she was very thankful that someone came out to help her.

The Second homeowner was a 98-year-old women who lived alone. I talked with her about what it was like being home alone and watching Hurricane Michael roll through and she said she just watched it out of her living room window and she wasn’t that scared because she had lived through the 1926 Miami Hurricane when she was younger. She told me, “that Hurricane was scarier because there was no communication unlike now you know when they are coming."

The third stop of the day was a church that had a tree from their property that had uprooted and hung in a ROW tree and was over a county road. Getting that tree removed was a huge help for safety reason and a lot of the church's parishioners utilize that road for access for Sunday service. 

The second to last stop of the day had trees beyond our capabilities which you will see pictures of. The final house of the day had large broken pine trees posing a hazard to not only the structure but the children that lived there. 

Matt Anderson
City of Clearwater Parks and Recreation
Landscape maintenance Coordinator

 

Day 8: Sunday, Nov. 11

Today we assisted 5 total families. Four of the families we were able to complete all tree removal required to allow them to get back to their daily lives. I have spent many days here working trying to imagine how I would handle having to continue daily life with all the issues these residents are facing. Daily activities like going outside and driving your vehicle are very difficult when your driveway is blocked by tree debris.

The first two homes we assisted were on a private road and the residents in both houses were elderly. The gentleman at the first house is dependent on oxygen and has numerous health problems. FEMA put the request in for these two properties due to the road having tree debris encroaching preventing emergency to access these properties. We were able to clear the roadway, both driveways, the entry ways to each house, and removed a tree off the first homeowners storage building. The team was very pleased to be able to restore access for emergency vehicles, and all found it hard to comprehend that this long after the storm people still don’t have accessible properties.

The third house of the day was an elderly women who lived by herself. She had several large branches that had fallen off a neighbor's tree and the limbs were still attached. We were able to successfully remove all limbs. She hadn’t been staying in the house because of the tree limbs. In talking with her she retired to the panhandle from Dunedin about 2.5 weeks prior to Hurricane Michael’s landfall. She said she couldn’t wait to call her family down south and tell them that the City of Clearwater was all the way up in the panhandle helping residents.

The fourth stop of the day was a young family with small children. In talking with the homeowners they had tried to clean up the trees but because of the poison ivy the husband had to go to ER because his reaction was so bad. We used the bobcat to move the debris and had minimal contact with the poison ivy while removing a 50 foot broken pine tree hanging right over there driveway. The family can now park back in the driveway without worrying about the tree failing or their kids getting into poison ivy while playing in the yard.

The last house of the day was beyond our capabilities and needed a crane or an excavator to safely remove the three trees on the residence.

I am also sending a picture of Chad doing nightly maintenance. At least once a day we do preventative maintenance on the bobcat, track bucket, and on all our chainsaws to make sure they are running safely and effectively before we begin work.

Matt Anderson
City of Clearwater Parks and Recreation
Landscape maintenance Coordinator

 

Day 9: Monday, Nov. 12

We assessed five properties today throughout Calhoun county. We were able to help complete two of them, started a third, and scheduled one for tomorrow.

The first house we stopped at we were unable to assist. The homeowner did have power and that was part of the issue. The power company installed his drop from the transformer to his house but didn’t remove a hazardous tree that was leaning right over the drop. We did however advise him to contact his power company and make them aware of the issue.

 The second house we stopped at had several very large leaning pine trees and trees laying on the driveway. This particular property is pictured below. It took us approximately 5 hours to get this property safe for the elderly resident that lived there. She had been climbing over a large oak stump to get to her car that blocked her walkway. We have had issues with saturated soil which has prevented us from using the lift and bobcat in some situations. If the lift is on too soft of ground the outriggers can sink making it unstable. There was one tree we were unable to remove because it will need a crane. The second issue with the tree we are unable to remove is the power drop is resting on top of the hazardous pine. I informed the homeowner and the EOC of the issue. This could have severe consequences as wind blow the drop and it rubs on the pine tree damaging the insulated wires.

The third house we stopped at had the driveway cleared but the debris contractor that pushed the roads piled the debris on top of the large trunk adjacent to the driveway. The homeowner once again was elderly and could not see pulling out of her driveway. We removed the debris with the bobcat and made several cuts on the 40+ inch trunk and made her sight visibility much greater. The stump and root ball were too large to move however so they will have to remain in place.

On our way to the fourth house of the day we stopped at the local Piggly Wiggly for lunch. The Piggly Wiggly has a buffet style lunch and dinning area. The crew really looks forward to this small break in the day. While sitting in the dinning area the stress, sadness, and reality of the work and living conditions of the residents seem to fade during this short reprieve. After lunch we went to a corrections officers house that was south of town to determine a game plan for this property. Due to the scale of work it is going to take to complete the job we discussed with the homeowner coming back tomorrow so we could start it as the first job of the day.

We finished our day out at a Calhoun County employee's home. He has been working 12 on 12 off since the storm trying to restore residents lives in his home county. He had the largest pine tree I have ever seen take the corner of his house off during the storm. He has been working so much he was unable to begin the task of trying to remove this tree. We spent 3 hours on it and had to stop when the sun set for safety reasons. He was extremely grateful that we came out and finished our day trying to help him. We will go back tomorrow and finish our last day removing the majority of this tree.

As I sit here tonight writing this email I am thinking about his house. Until we remove this tree tomorrow water has been and will continue to pour inside his house weakening the structural integrity of it. With this cold front that is currently moving through we are expected to get 4-6 inches of rain overnight. I wish we could have finished that tree so his roof could have been tarped. Hopefully tomorrow the weather will cooperate so we can finish the job before we have to leave Wednesday morning. 

Matt Anderson
City of Clearwater Parks and Recreation
Landscape maintenance Coordinator

 

Day 10: Tuesday, Nov. 13

Today was our last day of work in Calhoun County assisting residents. We started our day off at the Emergency Operations Center  (EOC) this morning for the wrap up meeting. Many of the EOC staff from other counties completed there deployment today. They had spent the last few days working on transitioning all services they had been providing since the storm back to county staff. All but one EOC staff member from out out of town left except for Greg Becker from Polk county. He will be here until Friday finalizing the transition.

We were able to assist two homeowners today. The first job was very in depth and had multiple large trees down. One of the largest trees was on the structure. We removed all the trees blocking access to the property, the tree on the house, and the trees blocking access around the house. Our goal throughout this deployment was to provide access and life safety. Like all the other properties we assisted the debris was placed on the curb for the debris contractors to remove.

We had a later than normal start this morning do to the EOC meeting. Once this job was complete we move back to the large pine tree we started yesterday that was through the corner of the house. We were able to remove more of the tree but were unable to complete the entire removal. The county has a local company coming in with heavy equipment to assist with removals like this one. The homeowner is able to place a tarp over the crushed corner of the house to prevent anymore rain from getting inside the house.

After working for nine straight days we assisted a total of 34 property owners with tree removal needs. Our efforts allowed for access to properties for residents and emergency vehicles, roofs that were cleared  allowed for tarps to be installed and inspected which allows for power to be restored. Another aspect of the tree removal assistance we provided was residents did not have to fear the hazardous trees in their yards whether they were still leaning or in some state of failure their properties had been made safe again.

With many of the residents we talked to the help we had provided had given them the feeling life was getting back to some level of normalcy. 

Matt Anderson
City of Clearwater Parks and Recreation
Landscape maintenance Coordinator

   

 

Check out their return home on Nov. 14, 2018: