West Palm manager sees Emergency Operations as proof to residents of what government does to help

WEST PALM BEACH — The city didn’t dodge a bullet, said Brent Bloomfield, West Palm Beach’s Emergency Operations Center manager and assistant fire chief.


"We dodged a nuclear bomb."


After years of preparation, drills and after-incident reports, after training virtually the entire city staff in hurricane response, after staring a Category 5-plus-plus Hurricane Dorian dead in the eye from 110 miles away, West Palm’s debris field consisted of ... a few palm fronds and puddles.


Power lines went down in the 45th Street corridor, off Broadway, in the north end. And a couple went down in Prospect Park, in the south.


But the highest gust was 41 miles per hour. Sustained winds never topped 27, according to measuring instruments at the city’s fire stations.


"Nothing major," in Bloomfield’s words.


By 4 p.m. Tuesday, the waterfront evacuation orders were lifted and residents were returning to near normal conditions.


Bloomfield said he was surprised how quickly Clematis Street shops and restaurants got back up and running. Some jumped the gun and should have waited longer for the all-clear but it was good to see the activity again, he said.


The near miss amounted to a worthy test of the city’s capabilities, he said.


"I hate to say we’re getting good at this but we are. Over the past four or five years, we’ve definitely been moving in the right direction, in preparing the city for this."


Even so, there’s more to be done. When things calm down, there’ll be another after-action study, as the city has done after every storm, to review what could be done better, Bloomfield said.


"We really did dodge a monster," he said, "but if we were tested, we would do a very good job."


The city has worked to harden much of its infrastructure, using federal grants to make its water plant better able to withstand hurricanes, for example.


Bloomfield and Mayor Keith James acknowledged that this week’s Flagler Drive flooding drove home that more work on infrastructure needs to be done.


In some neighborhoods, like the North End, residents have been waiting for flood fixes for more than 20 years. The city is working on it, the mayor said.


For now, city officials will immediately assess what damage Dorian caused in West Palm, but they’ll do so with sighs of relief.


"It as like the hand of God came down and stopped it," Bloomfield said of the storm that for days tracked toward West Palm Beach.


"I feel horrible for those people in the Bahamas. But wow. I don’t get nervous but I got nervous."


Several West Palm Beach police officers have volunteered to deliver hurricane relief to the Bahamas. Wednesday, the department will collect the items listed below from anyone wishing to donate them.


Donations will be accepted between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., at the West Palm Beach Police Department, 600 Banyan Blvd.


Do not donate clothing. Only the following new items will be accepted:


Water; water filtration devices; canned goods; meals ready to eat (MREs); hygiene kits; first aid kits; wet wipes; large plastic trash bags; mosquito repellent; nonperishable dry goods; towels; gloves; blankets; chain saws; generators; portable stoves; butane canisters; air mattresses; diapers; baby wipes; baby juice; baby food; baby formula; cereal; Lysol; disinfectant; flashlights.


tdoris@pbpost.com


@TonyDorisPBP