Out-of-state bucket trucks and pickups lined Cambridge Avenue on Monday afternoon as workers continued restoring power to Lakeland Electric customers. “We’ve fixed broken poles, reinstalled poles, picked up wire,” said Daniel Landrie, a lineman with LineTec Services of Lafayette, La.  “Made people happy, made some people mad because we’re blocking their streets, but that’s the norm.”

Nearly 2,250 customers remained without power at 4 p.m. Monday – down from 64,000 people at the height of Hurricane Ian late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. Lakeland Electric anticipates restoring power by the end of Tuesday to all but those who have damage to the electric equipment attached to their houses.

City Commissioner Phillip Walker, who has about a month left in office, praised Capt. Jeremy Mockabee, commanding officer of The Salvation Army West Polk County, for helping some of the city’s elderly residents who lost power during the storm. After the storm, Walker called Mockabee, who mobilized the Salvation Army’s mobile food truck and, within an hour, had 150 hot meals ready.

“They were concerned about food and hot meals — they didn’t know how long it would be,” Walker said.

Crews work to restore power

Commissioner Mike Musick said disasters reveal the true hearts of people. He said he and his fellow commissioners received numerous calls, texts and emails reaching out to them for everything from power outages to trash pick-up schedules.  He asked City Manager Shawn Sherrouse if there were any communication lessons for commissioners for future storms.

“Who do we reach out to? As we look at our emergency ops center and we look at you running the employees, I just want to make sure that when this happens again, because it will at some point, that we’ve learned a little bit from this,” Musick said. “So that you, who was up for days at a time – and that’s not a joke – that we’re not burdening you, but at the same time being responsive to our constituents who are reaching out to us. Seeing how we could do better?”

Sherrouse said city administrators had an after-action report following Irma, with lessons learned during that 2017 storm and he expected another report after work following Ian is completed.

“For the most part, I thought it went very well,” said Sherrouse. “There were a lot of texts that you received from me over the last several days and I was texting with all the staff and it was pretty much nonstop for several days … We get that pressure and we’re under the same.  Even at one point where I asked, please, as much as you can, let them know we’re getting it as soon as we can. That helped.”

Musick said during the Monday morning meeting that his siblings and mother are still without power. “I can be sassy with them,” he joked about his response to family, but added that he needed to be able to tell his constituents something constructive.

Sherrouse said his team would be formulating an action plan, especially for new commissioners, so they can better understand how the city operates and what they should communicate during disasters.

Some city properties were damaged during the storm, Sherrouse said, mostly from windblown rain. They include:

  • City Hall — water came in through the walls and windows and will have to be resealed
  • RP Funding Center — significant damage to arena roof
  • Greenhouses at city nursery sustained heavy damaged and officials are still accessing that area
  • Risk Management on Parker Street — water from glass walls leaked, creating carpet and wall damage
  • Lakeland Electric – Administrative offices had window leaks, creating carpet damage
  • Tigertown administration building — hydrotherapy room has damage
  • Lakeland Police — minor roof damage after tiles blew off

Vice Mayor Sarah Roberts McCarley, who was acting in the mayor’s stead during his absence at today’s meeting, said she knows Lakeland Electric was working as hard, fast and safely as they can to restore power.

“I know we still have to be sensitive — we still have lots of people without power and when you’re the person without power, it’s aggravating at this point,” Roberts McCarley said. “And we just want to keep encouraging people that it’s coming back online as soon as possible.”

Roberts McCarley then said that while she doesn’t expound on her faith often, she wanted to share a lesson she learned about the miracle of Jesus and the fishes and loaves, when he turned seven loaves of bread and a few fish that people gave him into a meal that fed at least 4,000 people.

“The miracle was not so much that Jesus produced the fishes and loaves, it’s that the people on the shore opened up their basket,” Roberts McCarley said. “So they gave out of their own resources and I think, in this post-hurricane time, I think one of the critical components that we can all do, whether we have a lot of resources or a little bit of resources, personally, we can open to our neighbors. We can make sure that if they don’t have power right now, they can come into our homes.  Maybe if we have an extra generator, or maybe if we have something to share, we can do that.” 

She commended Lakeland residents for helping their neighbors, whether it was raking each other’s yards or sharing food on their barbecue grills.

“Lakeland is a very caring and philanthropic place and not because of multi-million dollars given out,” she said. “We’re a philanthropic place because we have a heart that cares for other people. And that can be as much as giving a cookie to somebody or having a warm conversation with somebody to say, ‘You’re not alone, we all went through this together.’ I feel like our staff really cares about people; our Lakeland Electric really cares about people.”

Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz, who was overseas, was even helping people regain power from half a world away, including several elderly people living on Michelle Lane in the Highlands — one man currently undergoing chemotherapy and a widow in her 80s struggling to refill her generator from a heavy gas can. Within 12 hours, their air conditioning and refrigerators were humming again.

Schools Will Reopen Tuesday

All Polk County Public Schools now have power and cleanup efforts are complete and students are expected to return to classes on Tuesday, Oct. 4, the school district announced.

“We hope the safe and reassuring environment of school will be a welcome return to some sense of normalcy,” Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid said in a statement released on Monday. “We understand that many families might still be without power and are continuing their own storm-related recovery efforts. If your child is unable to attend school due to storm-related issues then please know that their absence will be marked as excused through Friday, Oct. 7.”

He said the district will not have to make up the five missed days.

He did ask that if parents can drive their children to school on Tuesday to please do so because the district remains short staffed on drivers and many are dealing with difficult circumstances from the hurricane.

“If your children are walking to school or bus stops, please speak with them about the importance of avoiding any leftover debris or storm damage,” Heid said.

The district has launched a new webpage with contact information for parents for various agencies that can offer storm relief assistance.

Teachers who are out will have to use personal time, Heid said.

Business Help

The Lakeland Chamber of Commerce alerted business owners and private non-profit organizations of any size that they may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace disaster-damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory, and other business assets.

For small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and most private nonprofit organizations, the SBA offers physical and economic injury disaster loans to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster. Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance is available regardless of whether the business suffered any physical property damage.

Disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace disaster-damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are eligible for up to $40,000 to repair or replace disaster-damaged or destroyed personal property. Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application via SBA’s secure website, and should apply under SBA declaration # 17644. The filing deadline to return applications for physical property damage is Nov. 28, 2022. The deadline to return economic injury applications is June 29, 2023.

The SBA opened a Business Recovery Center in Tampa to provide one-on-one assistance with submitting a disaster loan application. The Chloe Coney Enterprise Center in Tampa is located at 1907 E Hillsborough Ave.

The U.S. Chamber Disaster Help Desk provides one-on-one expert assistance to small business owners before, during, and after a disaster. Answers are available 24/7. Businesses and chambers can call 1-888-My-Biz-Help (888-692-4943) to receive direct support and guidance from disaster recovery experts.

Cable And Internet

Some Spectrum cable customers complained Monday that they still have not had cable or internet connection restored and demanded answers from the company. An outage map shows major outages throughout the eastern and Midwestern U.S. and spots in California.

Joe Durkin, director of communications at Spectrum/Charter Communications’ Tampa office, said they have “all available technicians working on service restoration and have supplemented that with hundreds of contractor crews so we can make repairs and restore services as quickly as possible to areas affected. More specifically, Lakeland area customers can expect to see Spectrum Internet restored in the wake of Hurricane Ian as soon as commercial power is restored.”

He added that customers whose outage is not power related should call the company to report the outage, if they haven’t done so already.

“Most customers see their Spectrum services restored when power is restored to their homes or business, or to our network serving them nearby,” Durkin said. “We are able to restore Spectrum services within 48 hours of power restoration for the vast majority of customers.”

He emphasized that in cases of network damage, “power restoration is the priority, and there are times we cannot immediately gain access to repair sites — In some cases due to flooding and in some cases until the power company completes its work and declares the site safe.”

Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native.  She can be reached at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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