Hurricane headed our way?
While a few of the folks we often call “hardcore” islanders — the ones who vow they will never leave home in fear, run from a storm or back off from the pending surge of water — rode out Hurricane Irma, there are many more of us who have seen the damage from past storms to know better.
Better scurry than be sorry.
Some people stayed home for Hurricane Irma in September 2017, but most islanders evacuated. And business owners closed shop, too. Anna Maria Island became a ghost town.
All but our local law enforcement, who were aided by dedicated public works crews in advance of the all-clear for residents.
Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach police officers and Manatee County Sheriff Rick Well’s deputies in Anna Maria were on the job.
And city crews returned to work before residents and business owners, clearing roads and preparing for our safe return.
We asked the three mayors of the island cities during the islandwide evacuation in September in advance of Hurricane Irma to recognize the response of their teams.
Here’s what they said about our hurricane heroes.
Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy:
Once Hurricane Irma had passed, the effort to restore some semblance of normalcy and security to the lives of our residents began. The “first-in” crew from Anna Maria public works department deployed within two hours of an all clear and were faced with what seemed to be an insurmountable task.
Trees were down, major roads were blocked, garbage littered the streets, power lines were left either dangling in the wind or draped across the road for unsuspecting motorists.
Adding to this was no electricity to provide lighting, power to tools or communications devices.
Under the guidance of manager Dean Jones, the public works crew immediately began to clear the roads, secure potential public safety issues and assist the MCSO deputies in identifying hazards. Their work ranged from picking up garbage strewn in the streets and beach accesses to helping our residents secure their property from further damage.
Even though they had damage to their own homes, the public works crew worked 12-14 hour days, seven days a week for three long weeks to restore normalcy to our city in the days following the storm.
Then-Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon:
The city was fully prepared for Hurricane Irma. Police Lt. John Cosby has for more than 28 years developed the city’s disaster plan. His plan is reviewed and updated yearly with participation from staff and elected officials. He is active with county, state and national disaster agencies and is highly respected.
As an emergency management director, Lt. Cosby takes the lead prior to, during and after hurricanes. His direction and decisions were reviewed with limited need by the chief, public works and myself.
With “LT’s” leadership, Bradenton Beach led the island in preparation, recovery and FEMA reimbursement.
Lt. Cosby can be likened to the maestro leading the orchestra.
Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson:
The HBPD under the leadership of Chief Bill Tokajer stepped up to the needs of the community dictated by the approach, impact and recovery of Hurricane Irma.
Starting with the evacuation phase, members of the force were out in our neighborhoods and business centers advising all of the need to prepare and to leave.
Their patrols continued right up until strike time, when all were required to be off the roads.
As the storm passed, the entire city police force mobilized at a mainland-based West Manatee Fire Rescue facility and moved onto the island at first light. They immediately began the process of removing obstructions and assessing damage. Equipped with chain saws, they cut and cleared roadways and sidewalks with expediency, targeted sites for public works and assisted them in the clean up of the more complex obstruction sites, and the placement of temporary barriers where removal was going to require additional assets.
Within a matter of hours, the city was able to accommodate the return of residents and businesses anxious to get back to their properties and get them operational.
The spirit of action and community by the HBPD was evident in the intensity of their actions and the timely results that they achieved.
For our part, as the island’s newspaper of record, getting back to business was crucial. Getting the newspaper delivered was essential. And we also rounded up our crew.
We pushed out news and photos during and after the storm via social media and while that was going on, we finalized the paper for the press and on Sept. 12 our crew hit the streets, delivering the news.
But before that happened, as any of you may know who returned to Anna Maria Island via the bridge on Manatee Avenue, Chief Tokajer joined other officers at the checkpoint when it opened that morning, waving and welcoming us back.
It was the best greeting ever — welcome back home to all the people who love Anna Maria Island.
This seemingly small action by Tokajer signaled for us an incredible reassuring feeling for the safe return to our homes and businesses.
Please, join us in saying thank you to all the first responders who made a quick, safe return possible after Hurricane Irma.
They help make AMI a great community every day.