Ocean City Today

Councilman pitches in after Hurricane Irma hits Florida

By Katie Tabeling | Sep 28, 2017
Courtesy of: Wayne Hartman Trent Hartman, right, helped his father, Councilman Wayne Hartman tear our debris in his aunt’s home in the Florida Keys last weekend. Her house is one of the few still standing after Hurricane Irma hit the state.

(Sept. 29, 2017) When Councilman Wayne Hartman went to the Florida Keys last week, he found a resort brought to its knees by Hurricane Irma.

Hartman drove to Marathon, Florida on Thursday with his family to help his sister, Sharon Stewart, clean out her newly purchased vacation home. For about 40 hours, he hauled soaked furniture, wet appliances and other items outside to the lawn to air-dry.

Stewart is lucky her house is still standing, Hartman said. Hurricane Irma, a category-four storm, destroyed roughly 25 percent of houses on the island chain. At least 50 people were killed by the storm in Florida alone.

“You’d see houses that were completely leveled,” he said on Monday. “Some would have blue roofs, since they were covered with tarps. You’d see the shiny hull of a boat in the middle of nowhere or laying in yards haphazardly. It’s an unbelievable sight.”

Other common sights were the mountains of debris left on roadsides – some piled so high Hartman said that they wouldn’t be out of place in a landfill. At one point, he saw rows of refrigerators that spanned several city blocks.

Irma also left the island quiet. About 75,000 people were without electricity as of Sept. 20, and the National Guard imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“In all honesty, the place is so devastated I don’t think there’d be anything to loot,” Hartman said.

The experience was eye-opening for the councilman, who attends the annual Hurricane Conference to help improve Ocean City’s emergency preparedness.

“It was a good experience, because it helped me understand the processes that we have in place,” he said. “I never knew what it’d be like for a category-four storm. But now, I look around here and think, ‘we could set up base camp at the airport,’ or ‘debris can be moved to Third Street or Northside Park as a central site.’ It’s not what’s included for our plans, but it’s beneficial to envision those steps.”

There are key differences between Ocean City and the Keys, namely the vegetation. The resort is populated with shops, restaurants, condominiums and houses. The islands had more plants than Ocean City before Hurricane Irma hit. Now, Hartman said, the Keys are “all brown.”

“I’d see tree branches out in debris piles or out on roofs, so I imagine they did some damage,” he said. “Mechanics there would offer free tire repairs because of the hazards on the road.”

Despite seeing the devastation on a similar island resort, Hartman is confident Ocean City is already taking the steps necessary to prepare for any hurricane that makes landfall.

“Knowing what processes we have, like the free cleanup program and the building code requirements that require buildings to withstand high winds, we’re already ahead of the curve,” he said. “It’s mind-boggling to think of the years it’ll take for restoration down in the Keys.”

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