The cleanup of 544 boats damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle was completed on Monday. Tallahassee.com reported that the removal involved a multimillion-dollar effort by the Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and NOAA.
Hurricane Michael was the third most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the United States. It was the strongest storm in maximum wind speed to strike the U.S. mainland since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It made landfall at Mexico Beach, Fla., on Oct. 10, 2018, becoming the first Category 4 hurricane to hit that region.
Robert Rowe, of the FWC, told the newspaper that boat cleanup in the Florida Panhandle was 99 percent complete. Nearly 90 percent of the boats were in Bay County, where the storm first struck. Rowe said there are only three derelict boats left, including a 145-footer.
The recovery efforts started just days after Hurricane Michael dissipated in mid-October. State officials used satellite images to identify possible boats in state waters. Rowe said the agencies did not have jurisdiction for boats that had been moved by the storm onto land above the tide line.
Rowe said that 1,378 targets had been identified. Some turned out to be floating refrigerators and other large objects.
Crews first removed gasoline, diesel and oil from the derelict vessels, and eventually removed them from the water. The FWC reports that 19,645 gallons of water contaminated with oil and fuel had been collected.
FEMA had given the project a cleanup budget of $18.5 million. Rowe said that $15.56 million had been spent by Monday. Seventy-five percent of the budget came from the federal agencies, and FWC paid the remaining 25 percent.
“It’s not cheap, but we have a $10.5 billion boating economy in Florida, and we look at it as an investment,” Rowe said. “People don’t come to Florida to see wrecked boats and damage to the waterways.”
Rowe said that the recovery rate for boat owners following Michael was high. Eighty-one percent claimed their boats following the hurricane, compared with 60 percent for Hurricane Irma.
“A lot of people have had everything destroyed,” Rowe said. “And honestly, one of their last concerns is this boat we’ve got in storage while they try to piece their lives back together and find a place to live and work and get back to their lives.”