Naples Mayor Bill Barnett – We are Ready for Season, Post Hurricane Irma
Sunday, September 10th, Hurricane Irma took direct aim at Southwest Florida, its eye rolling over Naples where it made landfall. The entire area spent weeks watching the storm grow to a monster, category 5+. Every little shift in its track made a potentially huge impact on what Southwest Florida would experience, as well as which community would see the worst effects.
Naples Mayor Bill Barnett remembers, “At one point everybody thought it would hit the east coast, but we were still apprehensive. Probably Thursday night we knew it was going get us and we thought uh-oh.”
Mayor Barnett was faced wi th the same question most residents had- -do we evacuate or s tay? However, his decision was an official one; it would affect a good number of his 20,000 residents.
Looking back, he says, “The Weather Channel was here and I remember being on the pier Thursday night, and the first thing they asked was about mandatory evacuations. I said not right now and I remember they said ‘really why not?’”
At that point, state leaders were holding off on recommending mandatory evacuations, and Barnett was concerned about his residents getting on the road with kids, elders, pets, no hotels, no gas… he says, “It seemed like a worse situation than hunkering down or going to a shelter.”
He wanted to spend the night at City Hall when the storm hit but followed advice from his staff and instead checked into the Hilton with his wife, their rescue dogs and cats, a host of first responders and national media correspondents.
When the eye hit, the storm began to fall apart, and he got the call that gave him a cautious sigh of relief… NO storm surge. There was widespread damage but nothing like what he and tens of thousands of others had been bracing for.
Without the anticipated storm surge, the mayor says, “The biggest issue was power. Once they started restoring, it was spotty… they did best they could.” By ten days out, most of the trendy 5th Avenue and 3rd Street South were open, although not at full steam.
Thankfully, there were no deaths or serious injuries under the mayor’s watch. He says, “It was a very stressful time seeing a city powerless, the debris and trees down… where we were then to where we are now is incredible. The recovery has been amazing.” Most of the debris has been picked up; in fact, the city is on its second round while other Southwest Florida communities haven’t even had a first go at removal. While there is still a lot of work to do with FEMA, Barnett says, “Businesses are open and we are going to have a busy and good season. The beaches look great, we have basically recovered.”
Always looking for a silver lining during bad times, Barnett says he got to see the heart of his community… and it’s a big one.