Sep 12, 2017

Downtown Clearwater businesses get extra layer of storm protection from Church of Scientology

Tracey McManus
Tampa Bay Times
September 11, 2017

CLEARWATER — Alessio Zavaglia stopped by his Cleveland Street Cafe late Saturday night to do one last walk-through before Hurricane Irma's landfall.

As he approached his building, there were strangers with gloves and hammers boarding up his storefront's glass windows.

He wasn't expecting it, but the Church of Scientology had come to secure his business before the expected Category 4 winds. And within 12 hours, Scientology volunteers boarded every other storefront in the downtown district too.

"No one asked them to do this," said Zavaglia, who said he couldn't find any plywood Saturday to do it himself. "This is good for the city."

Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw said church volunteers spent 1,500 staff hours over a 12-hour period securing 60 downtown businesses with 700 sheets of plywood.

"When Irma changed direction on Saturday, we became very concerned about downtown and that property owners would have little time to prepare," Shaw said. "Luckily, we had placed orders for all the plywood we could get and, just in time, a huge shipment arrived from Georgia. With that, we were able to board up every one of the downtown businesses."

Shaw said volunteers also supplied food and hygiene products to various shelters.

Kathy Panagoulias, who owns storefront on the 500 block of Cleveland Street, said a church member called her for permission to board her building after she had evacuated to Orlando with family.

"It was wonderful," she said.

Volunteers also deployed downtown early Monday with garbage bags and gloves and cleared tree limbs and debris from the streets and removed the plywood from windows.

Mayor George Cretekos said he wasn't warned the church intended to board the businesses, but he suspected Scientology was involved when he drove through downtown Sunday morning before Irma hit and saw the symmetrical handiwork of the plywood on storefronts.

"I commend them for it," Cretekos said. "I also applaud all those who are first responders and our staff and their families."

Tony Starova said he got a call Thursday from the Church of Scientology, asking if he needed any help preparing his downtown pizza shop for Hurricane Irma.

At that point, Starova said he wasn't worried about Irma's path and had no intention to board up his glass storefront on Cleveland Street. He just asked if the church had any spare sandbags.

Starova evacuated to New Orleans Friday with his family when Irma's path shifted towards Tampa Bay and called a neighbor Saturday to check on downtown.

"I called and he told me every business had been boarded up," Starova said. "The church of Scientology did it. It's being very good neighbor. Good stewards."

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/weather/hurricanes/downtown-clearwater-businesses-get-extra-layer-of-storm-protection-from/2337124

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