Orange County in ‘recovery phase’ following Hurricane Ian’s onslaught, mayor says

County added to FEMA emergency declaration

The Oak Creek neighborhood in Orlo Vista was completely flooded after Hurricane Ian on Friday.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings on Friday said emergency management efforts in the community had transitioned from response to recovery as residents clean up and rebuild after the passing of Hurricane Ian.

“In terms of the storm, it was bad, but it could have been a lot worse, and so we are going to take probably the next week or better to really get far into recovery,” Demings said. “While the storm could have been much worse, we do have an extraordinary amount of debris that is in our neighborhoods and along our roadways, and it’s going to take some time to clean all of that up and get our community back, the shining beautiful community that it was pre-storm.”

[TRENDING: SATELLITE, TRACK, MODELS: Tropical Storm Ian aims for Atlantic after swamping southwest Florida | Ian: County-by-county impacts in Central Florida | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

Demings was joined at the Orange County Emergency Operations Center by Sheriff John Mina, Chief Lauraleigh Avery with the county’s office of emergency management, Scott Howat of Orange County Public Schools and power company representatives.

This comes after Orange County was hit with up to 16 inches of rain in some areas, flooding roads, apartments and homes. Crews evacuated hundreds of residents as a result, including at one Orange County apartment complex near the University of Central Florida on Thursday night.

Demings said no storm-related deaths had been reported in Orange County, adding he was told that while a “very critically ill, elderly patient” died in the process of being transported from an assisted living facility, it was allegedly attributed to natural causes.

Orange County Fire Rescue performed more than 1,700 rescues throughout the area, county officials said on Saturday.

“I know there are parts of Orange County that are still dealing with the impacts of Hurricane Ian, and so we just want our residents to know that the Orange County Sheriff’s Office will be with them every step of the way. As always, we will be out and about, around the clock. We’re staffing many intersections and roadways that are most severely impacted by the hurricane and, you know, I know their work is far from done, but I do want to take some time to thank the men and women of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and all our first responders who’ve been out there really doing such a fantastic job,” Mina said.

With many traffic signals offline as of Friday morning, Mina stressed that drivers treat such intersections unstaffed by law enforcement as four-way stops. As of 4 p.m. Saturday, there were 10 signals in Orlando not in operation.

Orange County announced an advisory on Saturday for all lakes and rivers until further notice.

Parts of Lake Eola and Lake Druid parks are closed due to high water levels, but the walkway surrounding Lake Eola is cleared and the playground and restrooms are open on the west side of the park.

The following neighborhood centers are now open, including Beardall, College Park, Jackson Center, Orlando Tennis Center, Dover Shores, Engelwood, Orlando Skate Park, Northwest, Rosemont and Smith Center.

Rock Lake, Ivey Lane, Colonialtown, Reeves Terrace, Citrus Square and Wadeview will reopen on Monday, Oct. 3 while others will open once deemed safe for operation.

Orlando City Hall, city services and facilities will reopen Monday Oct. 3 for normal business hours.

Downed power lines and fallen trees also impacted residents throughout the area. Multiple reporter and viewer photos and videos show the scope of damage done by Ian across Orange County and the whole of Central Florida.

At least two homes suffered damage from falling trees brought down by Ian in Apopka.

Orange County deputies arrested three people who Mina said were attempting to burglarize a store overnight.

“You know, all this past week I’ve been telling our residents and specifically our criminals, that I told you that we would be out there in force and to not be committing crimes. Well last night, three people tried to burglarize the Family Dollar at Apopka-Vineland when they were quickly apprehended after their their car got stuck in some flooding water so, we were happy about that, but it was it was nice to have all those additional personnel. They weren’t going anywhere, they were taken into custody peacefully and without incident,” Mina said.

Orange County public schools are set to resume Monday, Oct. 3, according to Howat.

“All of our schools and offices will remain closed through today, extracurricular activities have been cancelled through the weekend and athletic events will be rescheduled if possible. Once we are able to assess any potential damage to our schools and district facilities, we will provide phone, email, text messaging updates to our families and employees this evening as to the status of schools opening on Monday,” Howat said.

Howat also notified students expecting to take the SAT on Saturday, “You’re off the hook,” at least for now.

“The SAT and the administration of the test has been postponed and a new date will be determined in the near future. Again, our thoughts and prayers are with our students, parents and employees as they recover from the impact of the storm and I encourage our employees again if they need assistance to call 877-622-4327. That line is open 24/7 and our parents or guardians or employees can always call the 311 number,” Howat said.

Though Howat said classes would be back in session within 72 hours of the news conference, Riverdale Elementary School in east Orange County on Friday remained flooded and virtually cut off. According to Howat, discussions were taking place within the district about potential alternative instructional options for students.

“As of now, we’re seeing major flooding issues at one of our schools, at Riverdale Elementary, which we’ve been talking about this morning, and what options we will have for the students and families and employees at Riverdale. Our priority is to ensure our students and staff return to a safe learning environment as soon as possible. If necessary, the district will look at alternative instructional options for students such as alternative locations for instruction, alternative sites, or if possible, virtual learning. We have not received any direction from the state as far as the virtual option but we will certainly look at that as a possibility,” Howat said.

As of Friday evening, cleaning crews were still working to removed residual water from the school, which had water lines along its exterior from where the floodwaters had risen.

One worker told News 6 reporter Treasure Roberts that they’re not as worried about wet floors as they are about moisture in the walls, which could cause health issues if left unchecked. The worker said it could be a few days before the cleaning is finished.

Public schools in Orange County are set to reopen Monday, Oct. 3, yet Riverdale Elementary School remains totally flooded Friday after being hit by Hurricane Ian.

For public transit, Deming said about a quarter of LYNX’s normally available bus routes were up and running as of Friday morning.

According to a statement from the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, the following LYNX routes, by county, were back in service at that time:

  • Orange – Links 8, 15, 28, 29, 42, 48, 49, 102, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 125 and 350.
  • Osceola – Links 10, 26, 55, 56 and 306.
  • Seminole – Links 34, 46W and 103.

Power outages in Orange County for Orlando Utilities Commission customers peaked around 11 a.m. Thursday at 97,560, according to Luz Aviles, vice president of customer experience and sales at OUC. About 7,000 customers were without power in Orlando as of about 4 p.m. Saturday, according to OUC.

“Our restoration process began with a focus on critical customers such as hospitals, wastewater plants, fire (and) police stations and other emergency locations. We are now making repairs to feeder distribution lines that will restore the power to the largest number of customers in the quickest manner possible. Then we will work down to the individual customer level. We expect a system-wide estimated time of restoration sometime today or tomorrow at the latest,” Aviles said.

Aviles asked that people still without power rest assured crews were working as quickly and safely as possible to restore service, also urging residents to keep generator safety top of mind.

Orange County’s emergency manager is urging people to remain vigilant and sheltered as Hurricane Ian passes over the county, despite the storm having weakened since first making landfall.

Avery said the Orange County Fire Rescue Department had so far assisted in rescues across at least 12 neighborhoods with massive amounts of flooding.

“As we transition to recovery, we are still working with all of our partners in Orange County. We’re very fortunate to have over 200 partners that when we have a disaster such as this, they come together and support each other to make sure we get our community back up and running,” Avery said “We’ve got state teams from the Florida Division of Emergency Management (that) are currently mobilized and they’re en route to Orange County today. They will be getting together with FEMA and our damage assessment teams that we have here in the EOC and going out and looking at those impacted areas to make sure that we are addressing that through all of our submissions for FEMA reimbursement.”

FEMA earlier on Friday announced Orange County was one of four Central Florida counties added to a list of those eligible for FEMA Individual Assistance. According to FEMA, people can apply for disaster assistance by visiting disasterassistance.gov, by calling 800-621-3362 from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. EDT or by using the FEMA mobile app.

Orange County residents in need of further financial and emergency assistance can find more information here.


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About the Author:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.