Highlands County continues to rebuild one year after Hurricane Irma

Posted at 6:02 PM, Sep 10, 2018

HIGHLANDS COUNTY, FLA — One year after Hurricane Irma ripped through Tampa Bay, many communities are still rebuilding.

The reality is there are families who were displaced because of the hurricane and do not have a home yet. In other cases, there are families who were forced to continue to live in their homes that need repairs.

Tenicia Cooper and her family will receive a new home thanks to Habitat for Humanity's 'Highlands Hammers Back' initiative.

"You do what you can with what you have and you just have to survive. There's no giving up," Cooper said.

Volunteers and staff with Habitat for Humanity Highlands County are building an entire neighborhood and they need help doing it. 

"Right now the greatest need is getting volunteers to come and help with the community, help with builds," Ryan Danzey, Disaster Recovery Volunteer Manager for Habitat for Humanity Highlands County, said.

Danzey anticipates building homes for the next several years for hurricane victims.

"This is (the) Mason's Ridge subdivision. We have about 40 homes complete already and we're scheduled to do another 40 or so more in the next four years here," Danzey said.

One year later, if you visit Highlands County, you can see tarps where roofs used to be or no covering at all on those homes. Businesses are slammed with work.

"That roofing company has got a year-long waiting list of people that will get repairs done," Marc Bashoor said.

Bashoor is the Public Safety Director for Highlands County. He said the total amount of damage to homes and businesses is more than $360,000,000.

A representative with FEMA told ABC Action News about $9.8 million in grants have been given to homeowners and renters in the county to, for example, help with repairs. The total amount of those grants issued for the entire state is a little more than $1 billion.

"We're still trying to get back on our feet," Cooper said.

Until she does and until other families do, seeing people working on repairs and homes under construction in the county is encouraging.

"It is nice to see that the community is coming together in so many ways," Danzey said.


Highlands County Officials are currently giving employees more training because of the lessons they learned when they responded during Hurricane Irma and the days following the storm.

"We know we'll be better this time if it happens," Bashoor said.

Bashoor said the county spent $15,000,000 on public assistance.

"We haven't received any compensation yet from FEMA, but it's not because we haven't been working," Bashoor said.

The FEMA representative told ABC Action News, like several counties in the state, Highlands County has not been paid back yet because they are waiting on supporting documentation.

Reporter: "If there was a hurricane in a week that was that same strength and did that amount of damage, could Highlands County afford to pay for those services?"

Bashoor: "We don't have a choice, but to afford to pay for it."

Bashoor said if they had to, for an emergency, they would use an $8,000,000 loan.

"Our citizens that pay the taxes expect us to do the job. They're not going to accept us saying 'sorry we've run out of money,'" Bashoor said.

County officials are confident they are prepared for a storm.

"No one has to worry about whether we'll close our doors. That's not going to happen," Bashoor said.