Lessons from Wilma: Refined disaster plan

Damaged boat store in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma, Hollywood, Florida.
Damaged boat store in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma, Hollywood, Florida.

By Peter Schaller - bio | email

BOYNTON BEACH, FL (WFLX) - It only took a few hours for Wilma to tear through Florida, but the mess it left behind took weeks to clean up.

Five years ago Sunday, South Florida was pretty intense as Hurricane Wilma crashed ashore. Meteorologists call it one the most intense hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic basin.

Sixty-two people were killed, and it left more than $20 billion worth of damage.

At Palm Beach County's Emergency Operations Center, Assistant Director Mary Blakeney says Wilma's wrath forever changed the way they respond to the big storms. Every disaster is a chance to learn.

Wilma is more than just a memory for people living in a Boynton Beach condo; they learned some powerful lessons in just a few hours with this storm.

Most of the residents underestimated the power of the storm. Michael Tamanini owns a condo at Venetian Terrace. He says the storm blew through quickly, but the problems lingered.

At the time, residents complained of mold and leaky roofs; however, some didn't even have a roof. "We could actually see the sky from inside the units," Tamanini recalled.

Back at the EOC, Blakeney shows us how Palm Beach County has been divided into six sections after Wilma. Decision makers quickly learned the disaster response needs in Belle Glade are dramatically different from those in Boca Raton. Now, they also have trailers that can serve as command posts in each section.

The disaster plan is refined when the next big storm hits, but it's been years. But Tamanini says his neighbors have let their guard down. "I know every year, my wife, she makes me prepare."

For more information, visit Fox 29's Hurricane Center.