BELLE GLADE – Hurricane Irma could have been a lot worse, many Glades residents said Wednesday, but for those facing three days without power the storm’s aftermath can be hot and frustrating.
“This hurricane, it was pretty OK because we didn’t have any damage,” said Vanessa Creary as she and her three children picked up a hot lunch and bottled water distributed by a collection of business and church groups.
“It’s just when the lights are out, and the heat, and with young kids, it’s pretty ridiculous,” Creary said.
“Thank God, foremost,” said Shirley Grant after the hurricane didn’t cause the wind damage or flooding that had been feared in the region around Lake Okeechobee. But, Grant said, going three days without power has been “miserable.”
The entire city lost power Sunday as Irma passed over the state, Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson said. He credited Florida Power & Light with doing an “excellent job,” but said 30 percent to 40 percent of the city remained without power Wednesday morning.
The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, Florida Crystals, Home Depot, Christ Fellowship, the Palm Beach County Food Bank and others provided about 2,500 meals and a truckload of bottled water on Wednesday and set up a charging station for people to replenish their cell phone batteries.
A similar distribution is planned for Thursday, said Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative spokeswoman Barbara Miedema.
“A lot of people call this a poor community. We have challenges. But we are rich in spirit,” Wilson said as a crowd lined up for the food and water.
Florida’s two U.S. senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, stopped by to hand out lunches after visiting citrus growers in Lake Wales and before heading to Immokalee.
“The biggest thing people need is power restored,” Nelson said.
“When the power goes, everything else goes sideways,” Rubio said. Later, he added: “There’s the storm and then there’s the second storm that comes a few days after when you go a number of days without fuel, without electric power, without permanent shelter for a lot of people. You’re starting to see some of those issues pop up.”
Rubio said he and Nelson wanted to make sure the Glades doesn’t get overlooked in Irma’s aftermath.
“It’s such a statewide event. There’s need everywhere,” Rubio said. “We wanted to really focus today on places that might have been forgotten, fallen off the grid a little in terms of coverage and attention…We haven’t forgotten. We’re not going to let you be forgotten.”
Both senators said they have been impressed by the way Florida residents have responded to Irma.
“What the community’s doing here is phenomenal. We wanted to show our support for it,” Rubio said.
“We haven’t seen any violence. What we are seeing is people helping people,” Nelson said. “This is Floridians helping Floridians. That’s the wonderful lesson that has come out of this tragedy.”
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