Nearly two years later, local residents still rebuilding after Irma

Rebuild Florida still accepting applications for assistance

By Nick Blank Staff Writer
Posted 7/3/19

MIDDLEBURG – It’s been nearly two years since Hurricane Irma struck Clay County, damaging hundreds of homes.

Some still haven’t been fixed.

Rebuild Florida, operated by the state …

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Nearly two years later, local residents still rebuilding after Irma

Rebuild Florida still accepting applications for assistance

Posted

MIDDLEBURG – It’s been nearly two years since Hurricane Irma struck Clay County, damaging hundreds of homes.

Some still haven’t been fixed.

Rebuild Florida, operated by the state Department of Economic Opportunity, is still taking registrations for its home repair and replacement efforts. The program was announced last September. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funded the program with $616 million seeking to help those affected by Irma.

A month into hurricane season, residents still can recall past hurricanes and are ready to store water, sandbags and nonperishable items.

They can add the National Hurricane Center’s tracker to their “bookmarks” tab again. The possible names of the storms were released in late May. The highlights this year are Tico, Flossie and Zelda.

DEO Communications & External Affairs Director Tiffany Vause said Rebuild Florida was currently verifying information and completing damage assessments across the state. The home of a Brevard County man was the first fixed throughout the program in May.

“Counties told us their citizens were hurting after Irma. They needed help,” Vause said.

Black Creek and Middleburg residents were hit hardest by flooding. Resident Cynthia Braswell said her family had seven feet of water in her home after Irma struck. She applied with Rebuild Florida.

“We are currently waiting on the state to approve it for the next step,” she said.

Former county Emergency Management Director John Ward said there were 500-plus homes that suffered major damage or were destroyed. Though Clay had the availability for 16 shelters, capacity dictated that just four or five were opened. Others were on standby, if needed.

“We had a lot of folks rescued off of rooftops. We sheltered about 860 residents,” Ward said. “It was the biggest shelter operation Clay County had ever done.”

Problems after the storm ranged from power outages to downed debris. From a debris standpoint, Ward said Hurricane Matthew’s lighter winds that displaced small trees in 2016 probably lessened the impact of Irma.

“Initially a major challenge was getting debris contractors mobilized once the water receded,” Ward said. “Our electric companies did a phenomenal job, we went from 87% of the county not having electricity, to probably to a single digit percentage within 38 hours.”

Vause said Rebuild Florida received more than 200 registrations and about 130 people invited to apply for the program. The state will use local contractors, and residents are not financially tethered to repairs.

The nearest Rebuild Florida office is in Jacksonville. Registrations are still being accepted at RebuildFlorida.gov.

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