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Three men meet before deloying with heavy equipment.
Information icon USFWS employees at Mississippi Sandhill Crane finalize their equipment and supply checks before responding to Florida to support the Irma recovery response in Florida. Photo by USFWS.

Service assesses damage, starts cleanup

Hurricane Irma, once a category 5 storm, has nearly played itself out.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 12, the storm that howled up the west coast of Florida had dwindled to gusts and rain over North Carolina – a tempest, still, but nothing like the terror that came ashore two days earlier.

Weather in Florida is returning to what is normal this time of year, said Kevin Scasny, a meteorologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).

People living in Florida should expect afternoon showers, with the most rain anticipated Friday. Otherwise, he said in a Tuesday conference call, the state should experience early fall-like weather – sunny and pleasant.

But another storm is out there. As Service crews begin the long process of righting all the wrongs Irma inflicted on refuges and fish hatcheries, Hurricane Jose is swirling in the Atlantic.

The National Weather Service said it could reach the Bahamas by this weekend. At the moment, it’s a category 1, and might weaken to a tropical storm.

“Jose is still wandering around,” Scasny said. “We’re keeping an eye on it.”

The Service also is taking a hard look at its refuges and other properties. Irma knocked some off the power grid, snapping trees as it passed through; others suffered far less damages. Roughly speaking, Irma’s destructive trail lessened as it pushed north.

Crews left Atlanta early Tuesday and headed south, knowing they’d have to be flexible as news from different refuges and hatcheries reached them.

“We may be scrambling a bit,” said Sami Gray, the Service’s southeastern incident commander.

She and other Service employees rolled toward Florida early Tuesday to bring fuel, generators, water and other necessities to Service employees and properties, as well as to others needing help. One crew headed toward Florida’s east coast; the other had the state’s west coast on its GPS.

A third crew left North Carolina, bound for the Okefenokee NWR.

Following is a state-by-state account of Irma’s impact.

Florida

The state is divided into Service zones 1 through 4 – south to north.

In zone 1, which includes the Keys, there is no potable water. Forget about finding any gasoline. A range of facilities are damaged. Monroe County, which includes the Keys, is off limits.

Zone 2 sustained damages. Ding Darling got power back late Monday, but its trails and parking lots are littered with downed trees. Big Cypress has flooding; the water damaged some workers’ homes. Loxahatchee has no urgent needs.

In zone 3, the Groveland office near Tampa is in the dark. Orlando reported outages, too. Offices and field stations in and near Fort Myers have minor damages. Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge reported trees down on roadways. Fuel is low at Everglades Headwaters. Merritt Island doesn’t have power or water. Welaka NFH would welcome a crew with chainsaws – a generator, too.

In zone 4, comprising north Florida, managers reported no major damages.

Georgia

The Savannah Coastal Refuges’ headquarters is OK, said Manager Russ Webb, but the water-delivery system took a beating. “Exponentially, it’s worse damage than [2016’s Hurricane] Matthew,” he said.

At Piedmont, people are hoping to start cleanup on Wednesday. There is no power, and cell-phone service is spotty.

The regional office, in Atlanta, is closed to all but a skeleton staff for a second day with the majority of employees working from home or on leave.

South Carolina

Power is out at Waccammaw NWR.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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