“This is the first time I’ve ever evacuated for a storm,” Paul Paradis, a homeowner in Bradenton Beach and third generation Floridian, said Sept. 11 following Hurricane Irma’s glancing blow to Anna Maria Island the night before.
Paradis owns a cottage across Gulf Drive from Cortez Beach. “This time was scary,” Paradis said. “I was afraid all we’d be left with was water where the house used to be.”
He wasn’t alone in his concerns.
Susan Rendell, an owner and year-round resident in Pines Trailer Park, fronting Sarasota Bay in Bradenton Beach, said, “When we came back over the (Cortez) bridge after the storm, everyone in the car started crying with relief when we saw the row of trailers still standing.”
Bradenton Beach residents weren’t the only ones relieved to cross the bridge to an island intact. Business owners were ready and waiting to open as soon as power was restored.
Delanie Herlihy, Island Time Bar and Grill owner Bill Herlihy’s daughter, said her family was ecstatic to return and find no damage to their business.
“We took more precautions than we needed to, but we figured better safe than sorry,” Herlihy said.
As Hurricane Irma grew in size Sept. 9 and became a Category 5 storm for the second time, when making landfall on the northern edge of Cuba, locals started to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
However, Irma took a slight eastward turn Sept. 10, skimming the island with maximum sustained winds of 49 mph and 70 mph gusts early Sept. 11.
While Irma was not catastrophic for Bradenton Beach, the evacuation and storm cleanup required a plan extending beyond what Manatee County, the Florida Department of Transportation and Florida Power and Light contractors could provide the city.
“Lt. John Cosby was the maestro of this orchestra,” Mayor Bill Shearon said Sept. 13, during a special city commission meeting to discuss Hurricane Irma’s impact on the city and remove the emergency declaration for storm operations. “He had a plan and followed it. Words can’t express the job he did.”
As head of emergency operations for the city, Cosby communicated with the county and worked with Police Chief Sam Speciale and public works director Tom Woodard to ensure Bradenton Beach was prepared beforehand and ready to get back in the game following Irma.
During the meeting, Speciale said over the years that he and Cosby have been with the police department they learned to work with the county, but plan for the city.
“The county’s effort is focused on the entire county, not us out here,” Speciale said. “We need to be able to take care of ourselves.”
Cosby said Woodard and the public works employees were in the city for the “first push” at 7:30 a.m. Sept. 11, the morning after the storm, “without a squeak or a complaint,” clearing the roads of debris in preparation for the DOT and FPL. “Our roads were clear by noon,” Cosby said.
While structural damage was minimal, Cosby said the city would be issuing desk permits to people who can show photographic evidence of storm damage.
“As long as its related to the storm, bring photos, and a permit will be issued immediately,” Cosby said.
Cosby thanked business owners for boarding up before evacuating their structures, and residents for leaving when they were told to evacuate. He said in the past, people have ignored the mandatory evacuation and stayed on the island during hurricanes.
“As far as I know, only six people didn’t evacuate and the businesses boarded up and got out,” Cosby said.
A motion was made to lift the emergency declaration, which commissioners and Shearon unanimously approved.
During the meeting, Pines Trailer Park manager Brian Quinn thanked the city for the “phenomenal job” they did with storm preparation.
Quinn, his voice cracking with emotion, said, “I commend the police department for quickly getting the island to a point where we could come back to our homes. We got really, really lucky this time, didn’t we?”