CLEARWATER - Residents of Clearwater Beach and Island Estates experienced a close call on Sunday, as hurricane Jeanne passed about 40 miles to the east as a Category 1 storm. As local winds gusted to nearly 80 miles per hour, Clearwater was spared the Category 3 winds that caused widespread destruction as Jeanne made landfall near Fort Pierce, Florida.
But Clearwater experienced a minor amount of damage, most visible on South Clearwater Beach. The roofs of the Travel Lodge, Red Roof Inn, Sea Stone Suites and Sun West Beach Motel were partially destroyed by the hurricane-force winds. Charles and Bonnie Case of Erie Pennsylvania, who delayed their Clearwater Beach vacation twice because of hurricanes Charlie and Francis, noticed water coming in to their room at the Travel Lodge; they were relocated to another room, and plan to stay the rest of the week.
The damage was more severe at the Sun West, as the roof over one of its suites was lost entirely; fortunately, the room was unoccupied at the time. On Monday, owner Judy Barrows discovered smoke coming through the complex's air conditioning system and called the Clearwater Fire Department when she was unable to find the source. Apparently an electrical fire had started under a damaged part of the roof; no one was injured.
Clearwater Marine interests experienced little damage. One sailboat sank at a City slip on Island Estates, but the Clearwater Municipal Marina and its tenants were surprisingly unaffected. Paul Kelly, owner of the Show Queen dinner boat, said, " We have a front-loader full of sand aboard, but no damage." Show Queen would have gone on its scheduled lunch cruise on Monday but for the lack of passengers.
On Island Estates, boats at the Island Yacht Club survived the hours long pounding by 3-4 foot waves that rolled down Mandalay Channel. Dock Master Stewart Tayman and 5 volunteers rode-out the storm at the marina, securing boats and replacing snapped dock lines through the day and night in the treacherous conditions.
The City's South Beach Pavilion was inundated by drifting sand, but undamaged. Wade Hamilton, manager of the concession, said, "We're fine, just a little messy" as he and his staff were cleaning up. This will likely have been his last cleanup for some time; the facility is scheduled to close for renovations on September 30 in preparation for the City's release of a new RFP soliciting bids to operate the concession.
The creatures at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Island Estates survived the storm as well. Glen Harman, Director of Animal Care, said that a diesel generator and portable battery-powered aeration equipment kept the tanks habitable and preserved the animal's lives.
Clearwater's Solid Waste Department began cleanup operations first thing Monday morning. Bob Brumback, the Department's Director, said, "We already had procedures in place to deal with this. The trucks were fueled and ready, and the employees were on standby." Brumback said that the department would continue to rotate through its daily routes until all the debris was picked up. He asked that citizens separate their vegetative debris from other rubbish, speeding the collection and disposal process.
Perhaps Bill Vola, Clearwater's Emergency Manager, summed-up the community's perception best when he said, "Clearwater dodged a freight train." He described the storm's damage as very minor, mostly limited to power outages and debris. Vola estimated private property damage at about $3 million, with a split of $2.1 million to residential and $900 thousand to commercial property; 90% of the damage was minor, and 10% moderate. As of Tuesday evening, no homes were left uninhabitable due to storm damage, Vola said.
But by Wednesday afternoon, Clearwater's Fire Marshall declared the Regatta Beach Club Condominium, formerly the 880 Mandalay Apartments, uninhabitable. A building power outage rendered its water pumps and sewerage lift pumps inoperable, Vola said. Cascie Rich, the Condominium Association Manager, said that only 50 of the facilities 347 units were occupied at the time, and the evacuation went smoothly, taking only one hour. Residents are awaiting the restoration of power by Progress Energy before they can move back in.
But Jeanne's passing doesn't mean that all danger has passed. "More people die or are killed in the cleanup process than in the storm itself," Vola said. He cautioned residents to be patient and careful, and to not engage in strenuous physical activity if they are not fit, or use power tools they are unfamiliar with. He cited chain saws and portable generators as particularly hazardous if not used properly; "A chain saw is not a can opener," Vola cautioned.
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