Irma's mess may take weeks to clean up

The Hurricane Irma debris-removal process began across the Tampa Bay area on Monday, with cleanup crews starting in the hardest-hit areas.

The collections process is expected to be such a massive undertaking that it could take weeks.

"Please be patient," said Travis Barnes, Hillsborough County's recycling coordinator. "There's a lot of damage here within Hillsborough County. Some areas are more hard hit than others. Our contracted teams will be moving through the areas that they've viewed the most damage first."

Cities and counties have had to bring in private contractors with large equipment that can handle larger tree limbs and branches.

Officials remind homeowners each city and county has different debris removal rules and urge people to check their local collection agencies before putting items other than yard waste out at the curb.

Homeowners are looking forward to getting their neighborhoods back to normal.

"We have a lot of trees down," said Paulette Speirs who, although she lives in a Brandon community that saw heavier-than-normal damage, is staying positive. "We were very fortunate and praise God that it wasn't worse than it was because I haven't heard of a lot of people losing houses, other than the floods."

People are also being told to avoid piling items in front of things like meters, storm drains and fire hydrants.

A Hillsborough County crew accidentally broke a fire hydrant Monday afternoon because someone had covered it in debris.