The lush tree canopy that has come to define the aesthetics and character of Coral Gables turned into a mess of downed trees, blocked streets and trapped cars after Hurricane Irma passed through Florida.
In the days since, Coral Gables emergency rescue and recon teams have worked to clear the roads while asking residents to be patient.
The major issue for the nine crews — comprised of fire rescue, police and other city employees — is the larger ficus trees that uprooted and blocked roads and even landed on some homes throughout the city.
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City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark said the crews have been working from sunrise to sunset since the storm passed Sunday night.
“There are more than 40,000 trees that this city has in its portfolio, this is a long process,” Swanson-Rivenbark said. “To expect that their swale is going to be clean in one day, it’s not going to happen.”
Fire rescue officials said that all of the city’s major thoroughfares have been cleared but there have been some issues near LeJeune Road and Miller Drive. A massive ficus tree required the work of four crews to clear on Tuesday.
Deputy Fire Chief Gil Hernandez said the clearing crews hoped to have their work completed, and for all roads to be navigable on Tuesday, but workers might have to go back out Wednesday.
“That’s our goal and the next stage of the process is tree removal,” Hernandez said.
Removal of the downed trees could take a few weeks and the city has devoted about $500,000 to hire a company to take out the debris.
“It could take a couple weeks, it’s a big project,” Hernandez said.
So could the city have better prepared for the storm?
Swanson-Rivenbark said that the city has six tree-trimming crews out throughout the year but they couldn’t necessarily account for the decades-old ficus trees coming down. They plan to plant different kinds of trees in the future.
“We’re taking down the ficus and replacing them with Florida live oak,” Swanson-Rivenbark said. “We’re telling the public, the ficus does not do well in a storm.”
And Hernandez, a 24-year veteran with Gables fire rescue, said that despite the mess of mangled trees, the city’s cleanup efforts during the 2004 and 2005 storm seasons took longer.
“As a guy that was out there on shift, I thought it was much worse in the past,” Hernandez said.