Some Pasco County residents might have thought they got the cold shoulder from the federal government in advance of Hurricane Irma.
The federal disaster declaration for Florida, signed before Irma made landfall, excluded Pasco property owners from automatically seeking reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Authority for repairs to their houses or businesses. The designation is based primarily on the hurricane's forecast path.
FEMA reversed course Wednesday afternoon and added Pasco to the list of counties where individuals are eligible for aid, according to the office of U.S. Rep Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, who had asked the agency to amend its initial declaration.
FEMA aid, however, is not a stopgap for private insurance, said Kevin Guthrie, Pasco's assistant county administrator for public safety.
Over the past decade, the average FEMA payout to individual property owners in Florida has been $6,000, and the amount is capped at $36,000.
While the waters of the Withlacoochee River are still expected to rise in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, those of the Anclote River were receding Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
As of Wednesday morning, the Anclote at Elfers was at 24 feet, right on the mark for what is considered major flood stage. Levels should fall below the 20-foot flood stage by late Friday morning. The Withlacoochee, however, is expected to reach 17 feet by Monday.
Approximately 150 people remained in public shelters because their homes were without power or because they fled rising floodwaters, said Guthrie.
Forty-seven intersections still had inoperable traffic signals, including 10 main intersections. Guthrie said the county plans to install light towers at the intersections and also put some towers at shopping areas to discourage potential criminal behavior.
Pasco Fire Training Chief Shawn Whithed emphasized the need for residents to use gasoline-powered generators in a safe manor. The machines should be outside a building and not in a garage, patio or enclosed area because of the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning.
His comments came about three hours after rescue crews had to take a Holiday couple to Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital in Tarpon Springs after they called 911 and reported they had headaches, upset stomachs and were vomiting.
The couple, whose names were not released, had been running a generator on a screened patio in the rear of their mobile home in the Tiki Village Mobile Home Park in Holiday.
A 67-year-old Zephyrhills man is accused of looting the home of a neighbor who had evacuated because of the flooding after Hurricane Irma.
Brian LeBlanc of 33549 State Road 54 was charged with burglary, accused of entering his neighbor's home and taking food and liquor, the Pasco Sheriff's Office said. Two people told deputies they saw LeBlanc leave the neighbor's home, according to an arrest report. Deputies said LeBlanc appeared intoxicated.
Pasco County residents can arrange pickup of storm debris by calling (727) 847-2411 or sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crews will begin the curbside service Monday. The debris must be separated by type — for example, appliances, vegetation, building materials, hazardous waste, electronics — and be within 10 feet of the curb. Regular food waste and trash should be put out on normal collection days.
Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles said he expected the cleanup to last for weeks, and Guthrie said the county would give residents two weeks' notice before the service ends.
In Zephyrhills, officials said someone tried to scam residents by asking to be paid for debris removal.
"We're doing clean up entirely ourselves," said public works director Shane LeBlanc, who notified police. "We don't have a contractor. If (residents) don't see that city logo on the vehicle, they don't work for the city."