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Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 20, 2017 4 years ago

Sarasota shines in the dark of the storm

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Natural disasters bring out the best and the worst of people. In our area, we saw most of the former and little of the latter. 
by: Kat Hughes Executive Editor

Phew. We made it. 

For Sarasota, even though the storm wasn’t “catastrophic” and “devastating” and all the other terrible adjectives we heard for a week describing it, Hurricane Irma was a test and a wake-up call. Big time.

Fact is, we’re pretty lucky. 

For most of us, the most lasting effects of Irma are the sleep we have to catch up on, the tree stumps that will need to be removed from our yards and the sweat we’ll lose before the power comes back on. 

But looking around at the signs of recovery on Monday (Sept. 11) — people raking up leaves and cutting branches, streams of Florida Power & Light Co. trucks hitting the streets, businesses cleaning their windows and opening their doors — it feels good to be a Sarasotan.

Natural disasters bring out the best and the worst of people. In our area, we saw most of the former and little of the latter. 

Disasters are a time to rise to the occasion, step up and help each other in this time of stress and need. 

We saw that.  

The folks at Publix hustled their hearts out, refilling shelves, distributing water and pulling in extra personnel to get people stocked with as much as possible before closing to let employees prepare. On Wednesday morning before the storm at the Bay Street store, a manager was greeting customers with a cheerful “Good morning!” as he slung cases of water into their carts at the entrance. Stressed shoppers rushed past with a sense of urgency, their minds busy with all the things they needed to buy, but his smile no doubt helped put a few at ease. 

Family, friends, neighbors and strangers rose to the occasion. Whether it was sharing tools, keeping each other informed of which stores still had supplies or lending a hand to help get that plywood in place, people were generous with their resources and time — things that became more valuable as the storm crept closer. 

In neighborhoods Sept. 8, there were whole crews of people surrounding houses, sawing large sheets of wood and screwing them in over windows. I’m personally in debt to a group of friends who helped secure our house. They have a chance at careers in construction if their current gigs don’t work out.

As evacuation notices began and shelters filled Sept. 9, these same family and friends opened their homes to Sarasotans seeking higher ground. There were countless stories of people hosting friends of friends (and their dogs, cats, etc.) with ample hospitality. The relief and gratitude of those who accepted this shelter dominated Facebook feeds.  

As the storm bore down, our Sarasota County emergency crews were prepared and active. From opening shelters at the local schools to keeping everyone updated during the storm, they proved why we are one of the best counties in the state when it comes to emergency services. Knowing that gave some solace that no matter what happens, they’ve got a plan. 

Once the storm passed, we were relieved, but tired. Small comforts like air conditioning and warm meals became highlights of our day. Patellini’s and Il Panificio opened their pizza shops Monday, with lines of hungry people spilling out their doors. After days of eating crackers and granola bars, patrons were happily waiting more than an hour for a hot slice of pie.

That Monday morning, the staff of Polo Grill’s Fete Catering stood on the sidewalk in front of the Sarasota Police Department laughing and joking as they mixed salads and fruit bowls to feed first responders there. The last bands of Irma were blowing away bits of Romaine, but it was all OK. 

Robarts Arena, the staging area for Florida Power & Light, has been transformed into a city within a city. Tractor trailers line the parking lot providing food and places to sleep for Florida Power & Light crews as they work tirelessly to restore power.

There were lots of lessons learned during the past week, the biggest one perhaps being: If this is what a Category 1 or 2 does, maybe next time we won’t stay if a Category 4 comes. Also, maybe it is time to get those hurricane shutters we’ve talked about installing for years. Maybe we should buy a generator before a storm’s landfall is imminent. Maybe we’ll assemble that prep kit with supplies at the beginning of the hurricane season, as officials always urge.

Lots of us probably failed on the preparation side. Hey, it’s human nature. But when it came to the reaction side, to helping each other and coming together to respond as a community, Sarasota, you did great. 

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