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Agencies focus on recovery efforts after Irma

September 20, 2017
By MELISSA BILL ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Local agencies have been reaching out to the Lehigh Acres community following a devastating blow from Hurricane Irma.

Though Lehigh is slowly recovering, there was still a part of the population without power or water as of this past weekend. According to Fire Chief Robert Dilallo, with the Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District, most of the structures in the community fared well during the storm.

"The main problem in Lehigh is the infrastructure, which made it difficult to restore utilities. Most residents had to deal with not only power outages, but no running water into the home," he said.

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Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce — along with Healthy Harvest Community Farms, L.A. Insurance and Mirror Lakes Golf Club — recently fed over 200 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

The fire district is fully staffed, even though two fire stations are down due to structural damage.

"Right now, Station 102 and 101 are down due to wind and water damage," Dilallo said over the weekend. "We are working with FEMA to temporary find housing for our firefighters. The same amount of staff remains, but we have moved them to other station."

The district saw a dramatic increase in phone calls after the storm.

"Many people with loved ones in the area called our office when they couldn't reach loved ones. We quadrupled our average call volume with over 600 calls post-Irma by Friday afternoon," he said.

Point of distribution centers have been set up, where residents can find assistance.

"For four days now we have had a POD (point of distribution) set up at Station 101, located at 1000 Joel Blvd.," Dilallo said. "We are giving out water and, so far, over a thousand meals to the community."

Other local organizations are heading up their own efforts. According to Lehigh Acres Community Council member Joan Cunningham, the community pulled together.

"We've posted a list of places where people in need can get assistance. Many of us belong to local clubs that are helping to get supplies to those who need it," she said.

"Groups such as Play It Forward are sharing information and providing a bulletin board for resources, such as a people offering their home for families without power or water, as well as directing them to places that have food and ice," Cunningham said.

The council still planned to hold its monthly meeting on Sept. 18.

According to Cunningham, the biggest issues that Lehigh faced as a result of Irma involved the water district and overflowing canals, which caused street flooding and power outages in the community.

"We have no say or control over any of these services," she said. "We would like to see the public have more of a say in what happens. The community doesn't have a voice, which allows us to prioritize our needs."

The Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce is also mounting efforts to help residents. Ed Moore, the board chair, said the chamber has suspended its meetings for September and will instead focus on helping people get food and supplies.

"On Friday we did a dinner and had over 200 people show up. Even workers from LCEC and other utility crews were offered a hot meal," he said. "Many of these men and women are working extremely long shifts and don't get a chance to eat."

Moore assumed the chairman role only a couple of months ago.

"It is my belief that if we function as a team, we will get things done and eventually win the playoffs," he said.

"That some people have said that Lehigh has been forgotten I'm here to tell you, Lehigh is not forgotten," Moore continued. "There have been many groups bringing in supplies, such as Carolyn Peplow from Lehigh Community Services, who organized relief efforts with Matt Caldwell this past Friday."

The chamber distributed palettes of water and other much needed items.

The same day, the chamber - along with Healthy Harvest Community Farms, L.A. Insurance and Mirror Lakes Golf Club - fed over 200 people, according to Moore. Blue Star Seafood and Mama Lu, with the Power House of Love in North Fort Myers, donated the seafood, produce and other items to help in the relief efforts.

"Although it's a slow process, businesses are slowly coming back online," he said.

Moore added that the chamber, along with others, will be working with other community organizations to help rebuild Lehigh.



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