Despite Tropical Storm Irma’s effects being far less disastrous than feared, the city of Statesboro did have a storm response, has begun hauling debris and is preparing a FEMA reimbursement claim for costs such as overtime.
But local officials don’t know whether the expenses will meet all the qualifications, city Public Works and Engineering Director Jason Boyles said Friday. The Georgia Emergency Management & Homeland Security Agency has not been able to advise them yet, after all 159 counties were included in the disaster declaration. Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is now dealing with the aftermath of three major hurricanes that hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico hardest.
Statesboro submitted its public assistance application to FEMA on Thursday, but that is only a first step.
“We will get all our expenses together and submit a preliminary estimate to see if we meet any thresholds that may be applicable,” Boyles said. “We still haven’t completed Hurricane Matthew yet. It’s still pending.”
When then maximally deadly Category 5 Hurricane Irma approached with forecasters predicting possible paths from the eastern Florida and Georgia coasts westward, Statesboro city employees began planning and preparations Sept. 7. The Police Department, Fire Department, Water and Wastewater Department, Natural Gas Department and Public Works and Engineering Department were all involved.
But when the storm’s center tore up Florida’s gulf coast and passed through southwestern Georgia at tropical storm strength Sept. 11, damage here was far less widespread than with Matthew 11 months earlier.
Still, city employees were called in for extended duty, many on a single, continuous 24-hour shift, to wait out the storm and respond as needed, as Boyles detailed in a memo Friday that included input from the other departments.
One 24-hour shift
Public works and engineering had about 25 employees on duty from 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, through 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11, he reported. After that, the crews continued to clear the streets and roads during regular hours Sept. 12 and 13. Altogether, they assisted in closing nine roads, removed 48 trees or limbs from roads and storm drains and assisted with repairs to 21 traffic signals, he wrote in a memo.
The water-wastewater and natural gas departments together had about 12 employees on continuous duty from Sept. 10 through Sept. 11, according to Boyle’s summary. These departments were stationed at the wastewater treatment plant with its break room set up as temporary sleeping quarters. Emergency generators at wells and lift stations had been topped off with fuel and tested, and emergency natural gas valves tested.
“Fortunately, there were no system failures or events as a result of this storm,” Boyles noted in his memo.
The Statesboro Police Department had gone on “Tier Two” staffing, with all officers on 12-hour shifts, Sept. 9. “Tier Three,” a 24-hour shift, began the evening of Sept. 10. During the storm response, 69 police employees logged 3,000 regular hours and 361.55 overtime hours, according to the memo. Officer cadets and dispatchers, as well as officers, were counted in the overtime, but not the chief, deputy chief and two captains.
The SPD reported 611 calls or self-initiated reports, including 159 calls for service, during the storm period.
Meanwhile, the Statesboro Fire Department had 48 personnel on duty during a 26-hour recall. The department received four calls for service during that time. Firefighters responded to seven storm-related incidents, but three occurred after normal operations resumed and were handled by crews on the regular shift, the memo states.
The debris removal phase began Monday, Sept. 18, with six city sanitation personnel using three knuckle-boom loader trucks to remove material piled on the rights of way of city streets. Other employees from street crews help with saws.
Boyles estimates that the limbs and other material piled up by residents or cleared from the streets will amount to about 1,500 cubic yards and will take three, or at most four, weeks to haul away.
In comparison, debris from Hurricane Matthew, in the city limits alone, measured 13,000 cubic yards and took about two and a half months to remove.
“Just riding the streets, we don’t believe there’s anywhere near what we had from Hurricane Matthew, and actually much less than what we had from the ice storm several years ago,” Boyles said Friday.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.