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Ryan Lamb, Chief of Cape Coral Fire Department, Speaks About Hurricane Ian Recovery Efforts

For our special one-year anniversary cover of Hurricane Ian, The News-Press and Naples Each day News reporters have engaged in conversations with local leaders and officials to debate the precious lessons learned and the long run plans for his or her communities. On this installment of our Hurricane Ian Lessons Learned Q&A’s, Cape Coral reporter Luis Zambrano highlights his conversation with Cape Coral Fire Chief Ryan Lamb.

Was the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ian probably the most severe experience you’ve got ever encountered?

Yes, this was probably the most catastrophic event within the history of the City of Cape Coral. Through the 15-hour period when 911 services were suspended, we received over 900 calls, with police and fire services reaching their maximum capability. To place it into perspective, we typically receive around 70 emergency calls per day. Coping with such an amazing demand required significant effort.

We also faced the challenge of prioritizing and managing these calls effectively, given our limited resources and the high demand. We had to find out where our assistance would have the best impact and where potential lack of life was almost certainly to occur.

At what stage is the town currently by way of recovery? Should you needed to estimate a percentage, how much progress has been made?

It’s hard to quantify our progress with a particular percentage. Our recovery process is an ongoing journey. Now we have transitioned from the initial response phase, which involved rescuing people in immediate danger, to addressing their basic needs corresponding to water, food, and shelter. Subsequently, we began specializing in short-term recovery tasks, corresponding to debris removal, obtaining permits, and establishing temporary housing. Currently, we’re coping with the long-term recovery phase, which is able to likely span over a decade. This phase entails securing grants and funding, completing projects, and ensuring our community becomes more resilient to future storms. To offer some context, we only concluded the recovery process for Hurricane Charley in 2018, which occurred in 2005. As you possibly can see, these endeavors require a big amount of effort and time.

By way of returning Cape Coral’s hard-hit areas to a way of normalcy, what must be done?

Achieving a way of normalcy in our hard-hit areas is a gradual process. While we’ve got made progress day by day, some homeowners still face difficult decisions regarding housing. As an illustration, they need to choose whether to raise their homes or pursue alternative options. While the debris has been cleared and power has been restored, we now face the challenge of rebuilding and revitalizing affected communities and neighborhoods. Many homes and businesses have been marked for demolition on account of extensive damage. As we replace these structures, we encounter various obstacles, including ensuring an adequate supply of roofing materials, recruiting enough contractors and staff, and navigating insurance issues. Many individuals, including myself, are still within the means of negotiating with insurance firms, corresponding to United Property and Casualty, which ultimately folded. We now depend on the Florida Insurance Guarantee Association to recuperate our losses. Consequently, this multi-faceted issue requires collaboration with insurance firms and securing essential funds for repairs. Furthermore, the work itself takes time, because it involves obtaining funds, engaging contractors, and acquiring supplies. While progress is being made, the means of rebuilding quite a few homes and roofs will probably be extensive, considering that roughly 80 to 90% of roofs in Cape Coral were damaged.

Lee County plans to allocate $1.1 billion to facilitate recovery efforts. How does Cape Coral intend to utilize this fund?

The federal government has allocated $1.1 billion through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds to Lee County. In collaboration with the county government, our mayor, city manager, and I actually have engaged in quite a few discussions to make sure that Cape Coral’s interests are accounted for within the distribution and utilization of those funds. While a significant slice of the HUD funds is earmarked for housing-related projects, we also recognize the necessity to handle infrastructure and interact in additional planning initiatives. Our aim is to align these funds with the recovery needs of our community. Moreover, there may be an extra allocation of $339 million for Hazard Mitigation grants, in addition to state appropriations through the state budget. Now we have been collaborating with our county partners, state representatives, state senators, and Congressman Bryon Donald to handle unmet needs and secure additional funding. When conducting a needs assessment for Cape Coral, we identified over $4 billion price of potential projects related to housing, infrastructure, economic revitalization, and recovery planning. Thus, it’s crucial to make sure that our community advantages from these funds and advances its recovery efforts.

Flooding severely affected residents within the southern a part of Cape Coral. Is there anything the town can undertake to attenuate or address this issue in the long run?

Cape Coral is a coastal community situated in a low-lying area, which presents challenges by way of flooding and limited evacuation routes. The Cape Coral bridge, in addition to other routes corresponding to Hancock in Del Prado and Burnt Store Road, function evacuation paths for each our residents and neighboring communities like Pine Island and Matlacha. Our immediate focus needs to be ensuring that buildings adhere to proper elevation standards. By way of newer constructions, we observed that they fared higher and experienced fewer instances of storm water intrusion. This highlights the importance of implementing stringent constructing codes…

Note: The response was truncated on account of exceeding the utmost character limit.

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