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Year in review: County tallies costs of Hurricane Irma

By Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times Staff Writer
Published: December 27, 2017 Updated: December 27, 2017 at 12:08 PM
CHERIE DIEZ | Times The Withlacoochee River floods the Withlacoochee River Park and Canoe Rental in Dade City in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in September.

Hurricane Irma threatened to rock Pasco Countyís world in early September.

Its weakened eye passed over Dade City and Zephyrhills, leaving in its wake downed trees, power outages to more than 100,000 customers, flooding and damaged homes.

For many, though, the winds and rain of the tropical storm it had become were but an inconvenience, serving as a reminder that their lives could be upturned in an instant.

Even so, damage totals are still being calculated.

Pasco County estimates it spent nearly $9 million on Irma, including $4.6 million for debris removal, $1.4 million on roads and the cost of cleaning schools used as shelters. Data from the federal government showed 510 families sought temporary shelter assistance and nearly 48,000 people registered for individual household assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency at an expense of $15.2 million. The school district reported Irma cost it $3 million, including $1.5 million that is reimbursable from the federal government, but $1.3 million in lost revenue due to schools being closed.

Perhaps the stormís greatest impact came to the schools, which closed for seven days of classes to prepare for, run and then clean up emergency shelter operations.

About 22,000 residents filled 22 hardened campuses in Pascoís non-evacuation zones, bringing close to 2,000 pets along with them. Only five schools anticipated housing dogs, cats, birds and other animals, but officials turned no one away for fear of sending an anxious pet owner into harmís way as Irma swirled ever closer.

The upshot: Extra time was needed after everyone left to scrub down the areas the pets called home.

Approximately 1,500 school district employees and another 550 volunteers worked in the shelters, running up a payroll of $1 million. Other expenses included 125,356 meals provided.

Once Irma floated farther northward, many families and their homes were left unscathed. But the schools remained closed a few more days to get them ready for children and staff to return.

The administration also focused attention on how it might better respond to a hurricane the next time one roars into town.

Officials have drawn up new guidelines for assigning staff to shelters, handling pets, and accommodating residents with special medical needs, among other concerns.

"Weíre redoing a lot of our plan," assistant superintendent Betsy Kuhn said. "That needed to happen."

The Department of Education also allowed districts to schedule state testing later in the spring, to account for days of learning missed during Irma.

Pasco leaders have not determined yet if they will alter their testing plans.

Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times Staff Writer. Staff writer C.T. Bowen contributed to this report.

RELATED: Even a weakened Irma leaves its mark on Pasco