Tuesday is shaping up to be a big day in Polk County. It’s the day that students are scheduled to report back to public schools throughout the county after they closed last Tuesday as Hurricane Ian approached, according to a news release. In addition, Lakeland Electric says power should be restored to all of its customers by Monday or Tuesday.
School personnel are are being asked to return to work on Monday to prepare campuses for re-opening, but schools Superintendent Frederick Heid acknowledged in a public message issued Saturday evening that “many of our staff are unable to return on Monday due to their own storm-related issues.”
Even when schools reopen, Heid said, he anticipates being short-staffed on some essential personnel, including bus drivers. He asked that parents consider transporting their children to school to ease the demand on available drivers.
Lakeland Electric reported Saturday night that 11,500 customers remain without power and that electricity has been restored to 52,000 homes and businesses in the last three days. While the utility said they expect to complete power restoration by Monday or Tuesday, they said they can’t give specific times for individuals or individual areas.
Lakeland Electric’s 200 workers in the field are being supplemented by 250 mutual aid employees from utilities in Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama, North Carolina, New Jersey and Louisiana.
Much of the work now involves going into easements that bucket trucks cannot reach, according to spokeswoman Cathryn Lacy. “These jobs can take longer to complete because of the constrained working area,” she said. “Lineworkers must climb poles or use special equipment to perform restoration.”
Polk State College announced it will reopen its campuses, including the collegiate high schools, on Monday. Crews continue working to clear debris from campuses, and “it is important that individuals remain off campus until the college has reopened to allow the crews to work as effectively as possible,” the college said in a public statement.
The Schools of McKeel Academy reopen on Monday. “We recognize that many families may remain without power and are experiencing various hardships. Please reach out to your child’s teacher(s) or administration surrounding any special circumstances where we may offer support,” Director of Schools Alan Black wrote.
No storm deaths have been reported so far in Polk County, according to Dr. Stephen Nelson, medical examiner for the 10th Judicial Circuit. “When we get back in the office on Monday, that very well may change,” he told The Ledger. Gov. Ron DeSantis may have confused Polk with neighboring Lake County, Nelson said, when he named Polk at a news conference as one of the counties where deaths occurred.
Wind gusts up to 78 mph were recorded in Lakeland as Hurricane Ian crossed Florida on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, according to a preliminary report by the National Weather Service.
The state’s highest wind speeds were 140 mph three miles southeast of Cape Coral and 135 mph at the Punta Gorda airport, according to a compilation.
Readings from other Polk locations include 76 mph in Bartow, 75 mph five miles west of Fort Meade and 74 mph at the Bartow Airport.
Lakeland Linder International Airport has been used as a staging area for aircraft responding to the storm, including medevac helicopters. The NOAA Hurricane Hunters aircraft have returned to their base at the Lakeland airport after temporarily relocating to Houston during the storm.
Two of NOAA’s Lakeland aircraft are collecting emergency response aerial imagery to help emergency managers evaluate damage from the hurricane.
Flooding concerns persist as water continued to rise Saturday along Itchepackesassa Creek northwest of Lakeland, The Ledger reports. Resident Josh Briggs estimated that the area received seven or eight inches of rain and that recent development across the Hillsborough County line has blocked the creek’s flow, affecting his neighborhood.
Lakeland’s main library and some parks such as Common Grounds Parks have reopened. Meanwhile some centers, such as Kelly Rec and the Jackson Branch Library, still lack power and remain closed, the Parks Department said in social media posts on Saturday. Check this page for updates on city parks, libraries and cemeteries.
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