After Hurricane Irma in Palm Beach County on Tuesday


The annoying and potentially dangerous game of who goes first at busy intersections throughout Palm Beach County is slowly coming to an end.

With nearly 1,000 traffic lights back working at some of the county’s 1,200 most treacherous intersections, many motorists are no longer at the mercy of those who don’t know the simple rule: Treat intersections without lights like a four-way stop.

Working traffic lights - along with the steady reopening of stores, restaurants and even the Wellington Mall - were among the most visible symbols on Tuesday that life was returning to normal two days after county officials say Hurricane Irma caused at least $19 million in damage to homes, business and government buildings.

Now if the lights would just go back on, mountains of tree limbs would disappear and schools would reopen, life would be good.

But, while officials spoke optimistically that schools could reopen on Monday and power could be restored by Sunday to the estimated 340,000 Florida Power & Light Co. customers who remain dark, that was hardly welcome news to parents trying to entertain kids while sweating in dark homes without air-conditioning.

As for those ever-growing piles of tree limbs? Get used to the view. They could remain in place for weeks, said Solid Waste Authority officials.

“This was a major hurricane that impacted us,” said Bill Johnson, director of the county’s emergency management agency. “That’s why it’s taking so long to get services up and in order.”

In a show of support - possibly empathy - for those dealing with Irma’s path of destruction on both coasts, President Donald Trump is planning to visit the state Thursday, White House officials said. They declined to reveal if his visit will include a stop here where he could inspect Mar-A-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Trump International Golf Club near West Palm Beach and Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter.

Unofficial reports indicated that aside from downed trees and standing water, the 90-year-old Mar-A-Lago survived Irma’s wrath. In contrast, Gov. Rick Scott has described the damage in the Florida’s Keys, where Irma made landfall early Sunday, as “devastating.”

Palm Beach County officials, who are still assessing the damage here, said the $19 million price-tag placed on the damage is likely to rise. The initial assessment puts county residents and governments in line to get disaster assistance money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said County Administrator Verdenia Baker.

Individuals who suffered damage can make claims online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).

Damage was spread throughout the county, Baker said. Poverty-wracked areas, like the Glades, were less able to withstand the additional hit, she said. But she said no one area took the brunt of the storm, the first since Hurricane Wilma made an unwelcome visit in 2005.

To many people, getting their electrical power restored is their fondest hope. FPL officials said they assembled a crew of a record-setting 20,000 workers to make those dreams come true throughout its 35-county region. But, they and officials at Lake Worth Utilities, urged patience. Most of the power restoration involves the pain-staking task of finding tree limbs in individual neighborhoods that are responsible for interrupting service, they said.

In the meantime, health officials urged people to exercise caution when using generators. Already two families in West Palm Beach and one in both Delray Beach and Boca Raton have been treated at area hospitals for carbon monoxide poisoning, said Tim O’Connor, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County Health Department.

In both cases in West Palm Beach, the cause was from fumes from a generator that was running in a garage. The cause of the incidents in Delray and Boca is still under investigation, but generators are suspected, he said.

Just as traffic lights are beginning to work, so, too, are county workers and others who have been idled since Irma set Florida in its sights last week. While only the North County Courthouse in Palm Beach Gardens will be reopen for business today, all courts employees are to report to court.

The main courthouse in West Palm Beach and satellites in Delray Beach and Belle Glade are expected to open to the public on Thursday along with other county offices.

Baker and Johnson both acknowledged that more work remains to be done, but both said the county has an obligation to help other communities with greater needs. The Palm Beach County All-Hazards Incident Management Team and Palm Beach County firefighters are being sent to the Keys to help recovery efforts.

“We’re doing a lot better than our neighbors to the south and southwest,” Johnson said. ‘They had to deal with the core of the storm. They have no water, no power. We’re a lot better off than they are.”

Staff writers Kristina Webb, Pat Beall and George Bennett contributed to this story.



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