County scaling back emergency operations after near miss

Palm Beach County, breathing a collective sigh of relief, is scaling back emergency operations after its brush with Hurricane Matthew caused minimal damage.

“It’s been busy,” County Mayor Mary Lou Berger said during a press conference Friday at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. “It’s been interesting. It’s been annoying. It’s been exciting. But we have gotten through this.”

All evacuees can return, and the county is under no warnings or other advisories, County Administrator Verdenia Baker said.

An assessment found no damage to county structures or assets. About 38,750 people in the county lost power. FPL said it expects to restore power to all customers by Saturday.

Power outages or internal malfunctions have knocked out 20 to 30 traffic signals. The county urges residents to treat intersections with non-working traffic signals as a four-way stop.

Intracoastal bridges remain closed to boat traffic but are open to motorists.

Some 7,560 people sought refuge from Hurricane Matthew at the county’s 13 shelters, with 184 people staying at the special needs shelter at the South Florida Fairgrounds.

The pet-friendly shelter at West Boynton Recreation Center reached full capacity, with 245 people and 200 animals.

County staffers fielded 5,289 calls from residents who had questions about everything from warnings to road closures.

The Emergency Operation Center, where some county staff have stayed overnight monitoring the storm, will scale back its operations at 5 p.m. but will remain at an elevated level of readiness until Saturday afternoon or longer if needed.

County officials were ready for questions about whether they acted too aggressively given the muted impacts of the storm.

Baker said she would not change the county’s actions and warnings. Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson agreed.

“If folks have doubts whether we made the right decision, they just need to look up the coast a little and see what damage the storm is doing,” Johnson said.

Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)