During the evening of October 10, Hurricane Irma made landfall just north of Naples, Florida hitting the shores as a Category 2 storm. Reaching Alachua county with winds upwards of 70 mph and drenching the area with 13 inches of rain, the effects of Irma on the Gainesville community lasted much longer than the winds and the rain from the storm.
By the following day, almost 86,000 GRU, Clay Electric and Duke Energy customers were without power throughout the region. Roads became impassable due to flooding and downed trees, schools were closed and businesses were shut down.
Certainly, the aftermath of Irma in Alachua County was nothing compared to the devastation in other parts of the state, with initial estimates of the total economic impact reaching close to $300 billion.
So far, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the US Small Business Administration (SBA), more than 6200 small business claims totaling almost $18 million have already been filed. Of those claims, 4000 are for physical damage to businesses due to the storm, while over 2200 have been submitted citing economic injury. But claims continue every day.
Locally, damage to business was minimal.
“We fared really well in Alachua County,” commented Edgar Campa-Palafox, the county’s Economic Development Coordinator.
“Certainly, businesses closer to our rivers were affected, as were some from structural damage caused by fallen trees, but overall we had very few incidents,” he added.
“Butler Plaza did not have a lot of damage,” reported Mary Reichardt, Corporate Director of Marketing with Butler Enterprises.
“Our storm water drainage systems were well prepared to handle as well as possible the significant amount of rain we received,” she also commented, noting only one of Butler’s Publix stores had water intrusion issues.
“Our biggest issue was definitely electricity as several tenants in Butler North lost power for several days and some restaurants had food loss.” Reichardt added this was particularly unfortunate considering Gainesville did have so many visitors and evacuees from other areas outside of town.
Keke’s Breakfast Café was hit hardest but when reopened, Reichardt said, the “line was around the corner.”
Prior to the Hurricane, hotels were near full capacity in anticipation of the September 9 UF football game vs. Northern Colorado. When that game was cancelled, rooms were subsequently occupied by Florida residents and vacationers evacuating the coasts.
According to Visit Gainesville, a division of the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau, September hotel occupancy jumped 15% from the same time in the previous year.
“Across the state, hotel availability was a huge challenge both during and after the storm, considering the large number of first responders, and even line crews from other parts of the region that came to the area,” added Sean Plemons with Visit Gainesville.
However, for those who did experience damage or were negatively impacted by Irma, aid is still available. According to Adrianne LaNeave with the Small Business Administration, individuals and businesses affected by this disaster may fill out a loan application online by visiting SBA’s secure website at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/.
The filing deadline to return applications for physical property damage is November 9, 2017; the deadline for submitting economic injury applications is June 11, 2018. However, according to the agency, initial deadline extensions do occur.
By Kathryn Pizzurro