By Delaney Brown
Normally Andres Sanchez’s job with the city is predictable, but Hurricane Irma changed all of that.
Sanchez, a junior mass communication major, works for the City of St. Petersburg as the supervisor of athletics. His job entails overseeing the maintenance of the 80 parks in his domain, scheduling games and overseeing the adult recreation.
When Sanchez, 24, went back to work Tuesday, just 12 hours after the storm passed, he saw what happened to his park. He was emotional.
“I walked out of my office and I almost didn’t recognize the park,” said Sanchez. “There was this massive tree, the kind so big you kinda take for granted, that was completely uprooted. It was all across the walkway.”
A typical day for him involves keeping track of the adult softball and football programs or trying to get more people out on the fields, but after Hurricane Irma, he felt lucky just to have a field.
Though St. Petersburg was spared a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, there was considerable damage left behind by the heavy sustained winds and 90 mph gusts. Debris blocked the streets, trees were downed and entire neighborhoods were out of power.
For Sanchez, it was hard to see the destruction.
He’s been working with the St. Petersburg Parks Department since he was 16. He grew up shooting hoops in the neighborhood park; when he calls the old court he frequented “the mecca of pickup games,” his eyes lit up.
When he spoke about his office and home turf at Woodlawn Park, he straightened up and squared his shoulders — he’s proud.
Sanchez described how weird it felt to walk around assessing the damages to his park. Foreboding red tape hung all around, the park was littered with debris and the scoreboard was in shambles.
“I’ve got this idea of what I want my park to be,” said Sanchez, “and that’s just not it.”
There was little time for reflection though. Sanchez is considered emergency personnel; it was right back to work.
“We just got right back to it,” said Sanchez, “Kids don’t get why — if the sun is shining — they can’t go to football practice. We’ve got to get everything back in order.”
Even though Sanchez and many of his coworkers were still out of power themselves, they got right to work. Once they got the “go ahead” from Federal Emergency Management Agency, Sanchez, along with the other emergency personnel, started assessing damages, cutting down damaged trees and clearing the roadways.
“It was all hands on deck,” said Sanchez.
Last week, Sanchez worked around the clock. When he wasn’t working, he was in class.
“I’ve just been running from work to class and then back to work,” says Sanchez. “I honestly never thought I’d say this, but I was so excited to come back to school. I welcomed it.”
Now that the immediate needs of the city have been met, Sanchez is focused on getting back into the day-to-day routine. He and his team are back in the office updating the schedule, prepping the fields, and talking about last night’s football game.
“It’s been great to see everyone’s ugly mugs back in the office,” Sanchez said, laughing.
Header photo courtesy of Jeremiah Delgado