Oldsmar officials, residents band together in wake of Hurricane Irma

Oldsmar resident Matt Clarke (center) has been busy clearing trees and offering water and snacks to first responders in the wake of Hurricane Irma. In this Facebook photo from Friday, Sept. 15, Clarke poses with Oldsmar Council member Eric Seidel (left) and Vice-Mayor Dan Saracki (right) after they helped clear a giant tree from former Oldsmar Fire Chief Bob Carman’s home. Clarke’s wife, Sheri, stands on what remains of the fallen tree.

In the early morning hours of Monday, September 11, 2017, Hurricane Irma ripped through the Tampa Bay area sporting wind gusts up to 100 miles per hour while pelting the entire state with heavy bands of driving rain.

Soon after the powerful Category 2 storm exited the area, Oldsmar officials and residents began working to help repair their community by reporting important information and clearing downed tree limbs while those with power provided assistance to those without.

The joint efforts were so inspiring they spawned a hashtag, #OldsmarStrong, and based on the scenes Mayor Doug Bevis witnessed in Irma’s aftermath, the description was an apt one.

The community’s efforts in the wake of Hurricane irma spawned the hashtag #OldsmarStrong. (Credit: City of Oldsmar/Facebook)

“I drove around the City Monday morning and it’s amazing to me, but not surprising, how this community rallies together in times like these,” Bevis told Oldsmar Connect by phone on Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve got great residents who were helping out with the sandbags last week, and I heard Matt Clarke was out with chainsaws cutting limbs and clearing paths for everyone after the storm.

Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.

“We had Josh at Walmart doing everything he could to keep the shelves stocked, and the ACE (Hardware) and Sunoco station stayed open,” he added.

“We tried to encourage the business to stay open because Pinellas County was closed off, and a lot of them really stepped up.”

Bevis did his part, too.

Although the Bay Arbor subdivision where he lives never lost power, the mayor hunkered down at the EOC prior to Irma’s arrival and then opened his home to residents after the storm, offering water, air conditioning and cell phone charging for those in need.

“I just wanted to do what I could to help those who were in a tougher situation than I was,” he said.

Oldsmar officials, including Mayor Doug Bevis (second from right) hunker down at the City’s emergency operations center during Hurricane Irma. (City of Oldsmar/ Facebook)

Other former and current City officials also went above and beyond the norm to help, and their efforts were not lost on residents.

“I want to thank again our Mayor Doug Bevis for not only keeping us informed but opening up his home to those that need a place to stay,” Oldsmar Cares board member Dana Barrow wrote on Facebook earlier this week. “I also want to thank Fire Chief Dean O’Nale at Oldsmar Fire Rescue for opening up his home for City employees and familes (sic) that have no electricity.

“But it doesn’t stop there,” she continued. “Former council (member) Linda Foley Norris offered her home to people, friends that have electric have offered their places and friends of friends, have offered. This city, neighboring cities, friends, friends of friends….we are all one at the end of the day and when there is a need we all come together.”

Perhaps one of the best examples of a resident stepping up to help others could be found in a bald-headed man with a chainsaw in his hand.

Oldsmar residents Matt and Sheri Clarke (pink shirts) and others helped Gul Aire residents Kaye and Larry Wolfe repair a deck that wasn’t up to code in January 2016.

Aussie native Matt Clarke is known for helping residents in his beloved adopted home of “O-Town”, so his reaction in the wake of Irma came as no surprise to those who know him and his wife, Sheri.

Upon returning to town after evacuating prior to Irma’s arrival, Clarke has been working around the clock this week clearing felled trees from yards and streets and handing out bottles of water and Tim Tams, an Australian snack, to police officers and other first responders he encountered around the city.

The experience has left him emotionally and physically drained.

“I’m sorry I’m being a teary little jerk right now, but I think it’s all set in,” Clarke said in an emotion filled Facebook video.

“I’m beat, I’m tired, but…everyone’s exhausted, everyone’s tired….and I saw a community come together today and I just want to thank everyone.”

Matt Clarke clears a tree from former Oldsmar Fire Chief Bob Carman’s property on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (Facebook)

After working with Vice-Mayor Dan Saracki and Council member Eric Seidel to remove a giant tree from former Oldsmar fire chief Bob Carman’s yard on Friday morning, Clarke said he plans on hosting a pig roast next weekend for all the first responders and those who went above and beyond to help those in need as a crisis gripped his city.

“Next Saturday Sheri & myself will be hosting a BBQ (pig on a spit) for all the responders (fire & police) along with everyone from the EOC and few people that made a VERY big difference (Before & after Irma) so our community can show them the support they gave us,” Clarke wrote on his Facebook page.

Saracki said this kind of outpouring of support was evident all over town in the last week.

“Before the storm neighbors came out to help secure each other’s homes,” the Vice-Mayor told Oldsmar Connect in a text message. “It was a unique bonding of new friendship. Sharing of plywood to help a family feel safe in one or more main rooms in their home.

A boarded-up home in the East Lake Oaks subdivision of Oldsmar sports a message for Hurricane Irma (Facebook).

“The culture of Oldsmar is sure something to be proud of,” Saracki added, noting “a lot of new friends bonded from Irma.

“Personally, my wife, Paula, and I are glad no one was hurt or any major damage happened to our community.”

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