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Staff Reports

Municipal utilities working to restore power

About 500,000 municipal utility customers remain without power following the three days that Hurricane Irma battered the state, according to the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA).

The hardest-hit areas for municipal electric utilities include the Florida Keys, Homestead, Moore Haven, Clewiston, Wauchula, Lakeland, Bartow, Fort Meade, Orlando, Ocala and the Jacksonville area.

Currently, 37 percent of municipal electric utility customers are without power, which is down from 61 percent yesterday.

Power has already been restored to an approximate 300,000 municipal electric utility customers. The city of Tallahassee and Kissimmee Utility Authority are close to 100 percent restoration, and their available resources will be reassigned to other utilities once they are complete.

Crews are already in Florida or on their way from Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia and across New England.

“Cooperation and assistance from others is critical during times like these. We greatly appreciation the help of personnel from public power and investor-owned utilities who left their homes and families to rush to our aid even before Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida,” said Amy Zubaly, the FMEA’s executive director.

Leon County offices re-opening Wednesday

All Leon County offices will reopen on Wednesday, the county announced Tuesday.

Also, a regular scheduled meeting of the Board of County Commissioners set for tonight was rescheduled to next Wednesday, Sept. 20. A workshop will be rescheduled at a later date.

Solid Waste Services and debris removal will resume as follows:

— Regular trash and recycling pickup will resume on Wednesday, Sept. 13, with those whose trash pickup date was this Monday.

— Yard debris will NOT be picked up. It will be picked up by a debris removal contractor and it may not be the same day as regular pickup. Once this is figured out, further details will be on LeonCountyFL.gov/EI.

— Residents may drop off yard debris at the Solid Waste Facility beginning tomorrow (Wednesday) during normal operating hours, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

— For bulky item pickup (items too big for garbage): Storm-related bulky items will be picked up by a contractor. There is no need to call to request items to be picked up. For regular bulky item pickup, call Waste Pro at (850) 606-1899 to make a request.

— Marpan Recycling remains closed until further notice.

Jimmy Patronis warns of post-hurricane fraud

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is warning residents of potential fraudsters looking to make a buck off others’ misfortune.

Here’s a release he sent Tuesday:

Following the landfall of Hurricane Irma, many Floridians are now assessing their homes and property for damage and taking steps to make temporary repairs to prevent additional damage before filing insurance claims.

CFO Patronis and Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier encourage Floridians to be prompt in notifying their insurance companies and cautious of repair deals that sound too good to be true.

“If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is and could be fraud,” said CFO Patronis. “Opportunistic scammers may attempt to defraud Floridians following Hurricane Irma, and I encourage all Floridians to be vigilant in guarding against fraud.”

Here are the top tips for consumers currently navigating the insurance claims process:

— Notify your insurance company first. Many insurance companies have reporting deadlines, so it is important to act quickly. Take steps to make temporary repairs that prevent further damage, but remain in contact with your insurance company regarding any outside vendors that are brought in to make repairs. If you need help locating contact information for your insurance company, click here to access the Office of Insurance Regulation’s (OIR) directory. Helpline experts working the Insurance Consumer Helpline at 1-877-693-5236 can also help Floridians locate their insurance company’s contact information.

— While making temporary repairs, obtain the licensing or training credentials of all third-party vendors before signing any work agreements. Beware of fly-by-night repair companies and hire only licensed and reputable vendors. Use the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Contractor License lookup to make sure all contractors are properly licensed and bonded. Access DBPR’s licensee search here.

— Fully review all documentation you are asked to sign and ask questions to make sure you understand the agreements you are signing. Ask specifically who is responsible for paying the vendor, you as the consumer, or your insurance company. For more information about how an assignment of benefits (AOB) for repairs works, visit the DFS “AOB” or Office “AOB Resources” webpages.

— If considering the assistance of a public insurance adjuster, ask for identification to verify that the adjuster is licensed. Visit CFO Patronis’ Hurricane Irma Insurance Resources website to verify the license of any Florida insurance agent or adjuster.

— Understand how much a public insurance adjuster charges as well as what services are included before signing any contract.

— If you suspect fraud or suspicious activity, report it immediately by calling theInsurance Consumer Helpline at 1-877-693-5236. You concerns will be promptly referred to insurance fraud investigators. The helpline is available from 8:00am EST to 5:00pm EST to answer all insurance-related questions for Floridians and businesses.

North Fla. state parks reopening after Irma

The Florida Park Service on Tuesday announced that 20 state parks in the Panhandle and Big Bend have reopened after Hurricane Irma.

But another 147 state parks remain closed because of inclement weather, the park service said.

The following state parks have reopened for day use only:

— Bald Point State Park (Franklin County)

— Camp Helen State Park (Bay County)

— Constitution Convention Museum State Park (Gulf County)

— Deer Lake State Park (Walton County)

— Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park (Franklin County)

— Eden Gardens State Park (Walton County)

— Falling Waters State Park (Washington County)

— Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park (Okaloosa County)

— Grayton Beach State Park (Walton County)

— Henderson Beach State Park (Okaloosa County)

— Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park (Leon County)

— Lake Talquin State Park (Leon, Liberty and Gadsden counties)

— Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park (Jefferson County)

— Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park (Leon County)

— Ochlockonee River State Park (Wakulla County)

— Orman House Historic State Park (Franklin County)

— Ponce de Leon Springs State Park (Holmes and Walton counties)

— St. Andrews State Park (Bay County)

— St. Marks River Preserve State Park (Leon and Jefferson counties)

— Torreya State Park (Liberty and Gadsden counties)

For the full list of parks that remain closed, click here.

Leon County ends nightly curfew

Leon County government announced Tuesday morning it would no longer impose a nightly curfew “upon the advice of law enforcement.”

“There is no curfew in place at this time,” the county said of the 9 p.m.-7 a.m. curfew. It “was enacted prior to Irma to allow officials to conduct response and recovery efforts most effectively.”

Other updates are as follows:

— Crews continue to clear roads blocked by downed trees. For a complete list of road closures, visit http://cms.leoncountyfl.gov/ei/road.asp

— Trash pick-up for Leon County and the City of Tallahassee will not occur on Monday, September 11 and Tuesday, September 12. Further service changes will be announced in the future.

— State of Florida offices will be closed Tuesday, Sept. 12.

— Leon County schools will be closed Tuesday, Sept. 12.

— Florida State University, Florida A&M University, and Tallahassee Community College will be closed through Friday, Sept. 15.

Massive sinkhole opens in Orange County during Irma

A massive sinkhole opened at the edge of an apartment building in Orange County, swallowing air conditioning units and bushes and a concrete slab. The sinkhole destabilized the building so seriously that firefighters evacuated dozens of residents amid the hurricane’s winds and pouring rain.

The Associated Press reports that Ronnie Ufie heard a loud bang and her 6-year-old grandson saw sparks shoot up behind the building, then their power flickered out.

The fire alarm started screaming.

Ernest Almonor, who lives next door to Ufie, ran outside but saw no fire and went back inside.

But firefighters arrived and told them they had to leave the building. Ufie, who cares for her two young grandsons, grabbed some coloring books and crayons and headed through the rain to a neighbor’s house.

But most residents, around 25 people, ended up scrambling through the storm to hunker for the night in the complex’s clubhouse.

Florida Lottery to resume operations

The Florida Lottery announced Monday that daily drawings will resume and make-up drawings for all Lottery Draw games suspended because of Hurricane Irma will be conducted in sequence Tuesday “with full security and auditing measures in place.” 

Here’s the rest of the release:

Players holding tickets for any Lottery Draw games originally scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 10, and Monday Sept. 11, will be able to view the video-taped make-up drawings on the Florida Lottery’s YouTube site once they are posted.

Draw results will also be posted on the Lottery’s Winning Numbers webpage, as well as on its Facebook and Twitter platforms. 

Florida Lottery drawings were suspended Sunday and Monday as a result of Hurricane Irma and the related Executive Orders by Gov. Scott and the Florida Lottery which provided authority for the temporary suspension of business operations.

“We thank Gov. Scott for his decisive leadership, as well as the selfless devotion and courage of all those who placed themselves at risk to protect Florida’s families over the past several days,” Lottery Secretary Jim Poppell said.

Wal-Mart pledges $10M for hurricane relief

Wal-Mart announced Monday it was “committing up to $10 million in additional support for 2017 U.S. hurricane relief efforts,” bringing its total this year to $30 million, the retailer said.

“We know our associates and customers make the difference. And once again, when needed the most, they are stepping up to help in a major way,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation and chief sustainability officer for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. “This is about neighbors helping neighbors and we will continue to be there for the communities we serve as they recover.”

The company also said it is launching a new customer campaign with the American Red Cross to assist with hurricane relief, matching customer donations two-to-one with cash and product donations of up to $10 million to support American Red Cross disaster-response efforts.

These donations will help those hurt by hurricanes in 2017 by providing shelter, food, comfort and emergency assistance.

During the campaign, customers can donate to the American Red Cross at registers in Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs or on Walmart.com and Samsclub.com. For every $1 donated, Wal-Mart will contribute $2 worth of cash or, at Walmart’s option, needed product to the American Red Cross, up to $10 million. The campaign will run Sept. 10-16.

AAA: Florida fuel supply could take ‘a week’ to normalize

As the remnants of Hurricane Irma move out of Florida, work is underway to resupply the state with gasoline, the AAA said Monday.

Florida gas prices are averaging $2.72 per gallon today. The state average is 8 cents more than this time last week.

Irma “caused a huge spike in gasoline demand as residents evacuated, topped off their tanks, or filled gas cans to power generators,” a press release said. “This led to outages at various gas stations throughout Florida and neighboring states, and it could take a week for supply conditions to return to normal.”

Suppliers “face an uphill battle in the coming days, trying to keep gas stations supplied, as Florida evacuees return home in large numbers after the storm,” the release said. “Gas stations not located along major highways should have an easier time keeping supplies, as residents are no longer ‘panic pumping,’ since the storm is no longer a threat.

“Refueling gas stations along major evacuation routes will be a top priority, as it was before the storm. Motorists are still likely to find long lines, which could lead to temporary outages, due to the surge in demand.”

Here’s the rest of the release:

“Florida evacuees should plan their return home very carefully,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “First, ensure you know there are no major hazards at home or along your travel route. Expect congestion on the roadways, as the first few days after the storm will be the busiest.

“Pay close attention to traffic reports. Ensure you have a full tank of gas before you hit the road. Do not let your fuel gauge fall below a quarter tank before you start looking for a place to refuel. Bring a gas can in case you run out of fuel. It is not safe to drive with a full gas can inside an enclosed vehicle.”

Florida does not have any crude oil refineries and relies on petroleum products delivered by tanker and barge to Florida marine terminals, primarily at the ports of Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, Port Canaveral, Port Manatee, and Port Everglades. Most of these ports have been shut since Saturday as a safety precaution.

These ports can not reopen without passing inspection from the U.S. Coast Guard on all docks, facilities and ports. Even after the ports reopen, distributors may face challenges by way of power outages at gas stations, and flooded or closed streets.

Florida insurers offer guidance after Irma

Insurers are offering recovery advice to Floridians in the wake of Hurricane Irma, now a tropical storm continuing to batter north Florida and southern Georgia with wind and rain.

“As the effects of Hurricane Irma continue to plague Florida, PCI encourages Floridians to safely and thoroughly assess their home, business and auto damage,” said Logan McFaddin, Florida regional manager of Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI).  “Once you’ve had a moment to assess your property damage, immediately reach out to your insurer to file a claim.”

The association offers this list of tips:

— Secure property from further damage or theft.

— Contact your insurance agent or company representative as soon as possible to report damage.

— Inventory losses and photograph damage to provide to your insurance adjuster. Save receipts for any temporary repairs you make.

— If you are a business owner, keep detailed records of business activity that is negatively affected due to the tornado or storm, and keep a list of extra expenses during the interruption. Prepare records to show the income from the business before and after the loss.

— Many standard homeowners and renters policies provide reimbursement of additional living expenses when the property is determined to be uninhabitable due to damage. This provision helps with paying for increases to necessary living expenses such as temporary housing and restaurant meals. In addition, extra expenses, such as overnight parking and laundry services may also be covered. Additional living expense coverage does not pay for all living expenses, so contact your insurance company or agent for a list of what your policy will cover.

— Be careful about unscrupulous contractors following a natural disaster. Contact your insurer, agent or local business bureau for references on potential contractors and ask for certificates of liability and workers compensation before signing contracts.

“Beware of any contractors who may come by your home or business, or even leave notes on your automobile, saying they can provide assistance without first having approval from your insurance company,” McFaddin said.

“It’s unfortunate, but there have been several reports of people taking advantage of others during storm recovery. To avoid this fraud and abuse, Floridians should contact their insurer and file a claim before any work is performed.”

In terms of flood damage, PCI warns “the standard homeowners policy does not cover flood damage … Please check with your insurer to see if you have flood insurance.”

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