Thursday, September 14, 2017

Civil Air Patrol flying out of Lakeland, Florida, surveys Irma damage along coast

LAKELAND — Along Florida’s Southwestern coast, from Bradenton to Naples, the hurricane damage apparent from a Civil Air Patrol cockpit was light: overturned oaks and snapped palm trees, debris in the streets and the rare metal roof panel pulled back like a yogurt lid.

Flotsam lined the beaches eroded close to the homes, resorts and tiki bars along the hyper-developed shoreline.

But the view was worse over Goodland where the power of the storm shattered buildings, broke roofs and flung wood and metal across the small coastal community of about 250 people.

By Tuesday, the roads were tan with drying mud left by the water’s rise and fall, and some residents were moving pieces of their homes and businesses to piles along the streets.

Goodland lies at the southwestern-most tip of inhabited Florida, close to ritzy Marco Island, on the edge of the wild and numerous Ten Thousands Islands.

Hurricane Irma was notably fickle as it made its second landfall, which was no more apparent then where one home was left as rubble as the one next to it remained relatively unscathed.

A capsized boat floated in its dock slip, another was tossed up onto the mooring. Not far away, a dry dock loaded with fiberglass boats seemed to sustain little or no damage.

The Civil Air Patrol and its volunteer organizers and pilots are flying out of Lakeland Linder Regional Airport to assist in the recovery effort. It is one of many organizations working out of the airport, including Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a fleet of medical evacuation helicopters.

Along with its educational mission, the Civil Air Patrol is tasked with helping reconnoiter disaster areas, locate emergency beacons and get an early glimpse at the damage to people and infrastructure in difficult-to-reach areas.

Its red, white and blue Cessnas are easy to identify in the sky.

Terry “Sparky” Ladé, a pilot volunteer, flew two reporters along the coast to assess the damage in Southwest Florida on Tuesday afternoon. Ladé, who is based out of Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg, said he will be helping as long as he is needed.

He also volunteered to fly with the Civil Air Patrol last year to help assess the damage from Hurricane Matthew.

Compared to that, “I could see a lot of beach erosion,” Ladé said, and “I think I saw a lot more water more inland. That was a lot of water.”

Ladé flew farther inland for the return trip to Polk County. As the sun lowered, golden light reflected as if onto mirrors; the dark waters underneath tree canopies, in agricultural fields and along the corridors cut through forests to accommodate power transmission lines.

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