Several Highlands County families still waiting for storm debris pickup

Posted at 5:38 PM, Oct 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-27 17:38:45-04

Many families in Highlands County are still waiting for their storm debris to be picked up, more than a month after Hurricane Irma hit Florida.

Layne Henderson faces pile after pile of dead, brown brush in the lot across the street from his Sebring home.

“We wonder if we’re going to have it for Christmas,” he said. “We’re going to put some tinsel on the scraps here!”

He says neighbors are anxious to have the debris gone, for fear the dry leaves and brush could easily light up.

“You’ve got a fire,” Henderson said. “You’ve got a whole neighborhood going up in flames because of all this debris.”

Highlands County was one of the hardest hit counties in Florida. County engineers say debris crews have been working seven days a week, 14 hours a day from daylight until dark. 

“It’s been a massive project,” said Gator Howerton, Highlands County engineer. “It really has been.”

Howerton said the county knew it would take at least two months to collect. However, just because of the sheer volume of debris, it could take as long as four months total.

The crews have already picked up more than 485,000 cubic yards already collected and expect to collect between 600,000 and 700,000 cubic yards total, far exceeding the county’s initial estimates.

“To pick up that amount of material is just going to take time,” he said.

Crews started clearing the western part of Highlands County first, an area they say was hit the hardest.

Now, the county is about to begin their second pass through the area and say residents should expect debris cleanup to happen within a matter of weeks.

“They should be seeing them very soon,” Howerton said.

Howerton also said to make sure residents are not placing debris underneath power lines because that means their equipment cannot get in safely to remove the debris.