Assessing the damage after Hurricane Idalia
After tearing through Florida’s Big Bend region as a Category 3 Hurricane, by Wednesday night Idalia was downgraded to a tropical storm as it reached South Carolina.
The full scope of the damage Idalia caused in Florida remains unknown. More than 200,000 homes were left without power.
As of Wednesday night, search and rescue teams had yet to find anyone dead in their homes, and there were no outstanding missing persons reports. But Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said search and rescue may take longer than it did after Ian because the Big Bend area is more rural than Fort Myers.
In the Tampa Bay region, the focus has shifted to recovery and cleanup. The area may have seen record storm surge, leaving neighborhoods like Shore Acres in St. Petersburg and the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs submerged in water.
Here’s the latest:
3:10 p.m. Hernando County lifts evacuation orders
Hernando County has lifted the mandatory evacuation orders for evacuation zones A, B and C and for coastal areas, low-lying areas and manufactured homes.
Officials urged residents to take caution when returning to their homes and said damage assessment crews are still working in the county.
To report damage, debris or downed trees, call the county’s Public Information Center at 352-754-4083.
— Tony Marrero
2:45 p.m. Idalia victims can get federal grants, DeSantis says
Florida officials are encouraging victims of Hurricane Idalia to apply for federal grant money to elevate their homes to be more resistant to storm surge. President Joe Biden will visit the state Saturday, the New York Post reported.
Homes that were elevated were not inundated by Idalia’s storm surge, and homes with metal roofs stayed intact, Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said Thursday.
It’s further evidence that “mitigation works,” Guthrie said.
In the coming months and years, grant money will become available for victims to raise their homes off the ground if they haven’t already, he said. He encouraged homeowners to contact their local emergency managers about the federal program.
“It is one of the best programs that we have in our in our toolkit,” Guthrie said. “We’re going to try to make the mitigation fund bankrupt.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis touted the state’s enhanced building codes, which were redrawn after 1992′s Hurricane Andrew devastated parts of Miami-Dade County.
Last year, lawmakers created the My Safe Florida Home program to give homeowners free inspections and $10,000 grants to harden their homes.
“This stuff does work,” DeSantis said Thursday.
“You look at Horseshoe Beach, most of these homes are very outdated,” DeSantis said. “And so yeah, there was a lot of damage, but there was also homes that weathered it because of how they were built.
“So they got massive storm surge, but it all went underneath the living area and so they’re going to end up, their homes are going to be fine.”
So far, only one death has been linked to Idalia, a traffic crash in Alachua County, DeSantis said. Search and rescue teams have not found people deceased in their homes, unlike the aftermath of last year’s Hurricane Ian.
“I think part of that is because people really made good decisions, protected themselves,” he said. “Also, this forecast turned out to be accurate.”
— Lawrence Mower
2:19 p.m. Treasure Island says avoid Sunset Beach
The city of Treasure Island is asking residents to avoid the Sunset Beach area as crews and residents work to restore the part of the city that was hardest-hit by Idalia. Sunset Beach parking is currently closed. Ka’Tiki and Caddy’s will remain open.
“The residents need some time and they need some space to recover,” Treasure Island Police Chief John Barkley said in a video on the city’s Facebook page. “Please give them that time and that room. Our officers are going to be down there checking to make sure that people who are on Sunset Beach have a business and a reason to be there.”
— Natalie Weber
1:30 p.m. South Tampa residents evaluate storm damage
In affluent South Tampa neighborhoods near the bay, some residents were dealing with the aftermath of flooding Thursday.
In tall rain boots, Sharon Baker was armed with a heavy-duty rake clearing up a mass of debris and trash that she said boiled up from storm drains. The inches-thick brown muck that came up the driveway and pushed up against the garage doors of her 1924 house in Beach Park was smelly and full of trash, leaving a watermark across the garage doors.
“I don’t know who will pick this up or how we’ll get rid of it,” said Baker, who is retired and has lived in the house since 2004. But, she added, “this is nothing. This is just cleanup. It could have been worse.”
Tampa lawyer Rick Terrana said there was so much flooding in Sunset Park where he lives in South Tampa near the bay that he was able to kayak most of the neighborhood to assess the damage after the storm. At big new homes still under construction he saw portable toilets floating, he said.
His garage “got wiped out” by flooding, Terrana said. He lost two refrigerators, a freezer and two safes that were supposed to be waterproof.
“They didn’t survive six inches of water for ten minutes,” he said.
The flooding was coming from the bay, Terrana said.
“You should see my backyard,” he said. “I’ve got pieces of boats, water bottles, fiberglass, you name it.”
Nothing in the neighborhood appeared to be wind damaged, Terrana said.
“But this water came in fast and furious,” he said. “We had whitecaps on the street.”
— Sue Carlton
1:20 p.m. Shore Acres residents report “the worst flooding they’ve seen in a long time”
Kevin Batdorf has seen the neighborhood he’s called home since 1986 get flooded over and over again. He measures how high the water gets to his house by the watermark on the steps leading to his door.
But it was the sight of his neighbors riding in the back of a dump truck with a trash bag full of clothes that compel him to find solutions at the local, state and federal levels. He also saw two houses in flames because crews couldn’t get there due to flooded streets.
“The look on their faces,” Batdorf said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”
Batdorf is the president of the Shore Acres Civic Association, the vocal neighborhood association representing almost 2,800 homes in one of the city’s most flood-prone areas and the neighborhood that is likely the hardest hit by Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall 125 miles away. It floods on a sunny day here, with king tide spilling over seawalls and into the streets, or coming through the sewer systems.
The neighborhood is concave like a bowl, where expensive waterfront homes are built higher and more protected while working-class homes in the middle are lower in elevation.
“The people who are hit by flooding are workforce housing,” he said.
The evacuees he saw on the back of the truck are among the 75 people who city officials say were rescued by St. Petersburg Fire Rescue in high-flood areas, spooked by the amount of storm surge entering their homes.
With over 400 repetitive claims losses for flooding in Shore Acres, Batdorf has an idea for a fix: One is creating a special tax district that could help people elevate their homes and payback the cost when they sell their homes. When enough homes are elevated, the city could raise up streets. It’s something he’s floated to state Rep. Lindsay Cross, D St. Petersburg, and Mayor Ken Welch.
“If the streets were 2 feet higher, we wouldn’t be driving through floodwater most of the time,” he said. “It’s going to take time but that’s the solution. Trying to keep the water out is not the solution.”
But in the interim, Batdorf saw two things the city could work on: Boats already staged at Shore Acres’ fire station for deployment, instead of offloading them on 40th Ave Northeast; and using the Shore Acres Recreation Center as a staging area, though the building is not hurricane rated.
In between fielding 1,000 requests to join the neighborhood’s Facebook groups and posts with questions about their homes and when they could return, Batdorf was on the phone with City Council member Ed Montanari.
Montanari on Thursday morning drove his white Ford pickup through Shore Acres, his family’s first home when they moved to the area in the 1970s. For every street still covered with water or much left over for 24 hours after Hurricane Idalia, Montanari would jot down the intersection to let city staff know to clean out a possibly clogged gutter or send out a street sweeper in a camouflage journal.
His district includes the areas most affected by Hurricane Idalia.
“I’ve heard from a lot of residents that this is the worst flooding they’ve seen in a long time,” he said.
He drove past several homes with “No Wake Zone” yard signs. He said the city has looked into an ordinance for slowing down traffic, but they’re preempted by the state to make a slower speed limit.
— Colleen Wright
1 p.m. Indian Rocks Beach says some areas still closed
Due to “heavy erosion” caused by the hurricane, some beaches are still closed, the city of Indian Rocks Beach said in a Thursday press release. The city is working with Pinellas County to restore and repair the areas.
Non-accessible beach areas include entrances on Central Avenue, 1st Avenue, 2nd Avenue, 5th Avenue, 6th Avenue, 12th Avenue, 20th-26th Avenues and 28th Avenue.
The beaches can still be accessed from the Whitehurst Ramp, 3rd and 4th Avenues, 7th and 8th Avenues, 9th ramp, 10th Avenue, 15th-18th Avenues, 19th Ramp and the 27th Ramp.
— Natalie Weber
12:30 p.m. More than 25 properties destroyed by Idalia, Pinellas County says
As of early Thursday afternoon, Pinellas County authorities had assessed 651 properties affected by Idalia, said Cathie Perkins, the county’s emergency management director.
27 properties were destroyed, and 23 suffered major damage. 265 more had minor damage.
The county has tallied more than 40 structure fires associated with the storm, she said. Some electric vehicles have also caught fire, she said, and those who own vehicles with lithium batteries that have come into contact with saltwater should move them away from their homes.
Perkins said those with damaged homes or businesses should report the damage at disaster.Pinellas.gov.
— Jack Evans
11:30 a.m. Pinellas director gives update on damage assessment and assistance efforts
Teams from local, state and federal agencies were fanning out in Pinellas County on Thursday to assess damage and get resources to people in need, county emergency management director Cathie Perkins said at morning news conference.
An initial assessment has found that hundreds of homes have been flooded, and some were inundated with as much as two feet of water. St. Petersburg’s Shore Acres and Riviera Bay neighborhoods were among the hardest hit, she said.
”Some people are still having water in their neighborhoods this morning,” Perkins said. “This flooding was worse than what we saw for Hurricane Eta a few years ago.”
Perkins provided some initial numbers on the storm:
- More than 60 rescue missions helped hundreds of people from flooded areas.
- Nearly 1,700 people including 187 with special needs took advantage of the 10 emergency shelters. They brought about 70 pets.
- The county’s 911 center received more than 800 emergency calls between Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon.
- Roughly 28,000 people were without power at the peak of the storm; about 2,600 homes were still without power as of Thursday morning.
People who could not immediately return home have been moved to the Lealman Exchange Community Center; the county served about 30 people in community centers on Wednesday night who were not able to return home.
Teams were also working to assess the extent of beach erosion caused by the storm, Perkins said.
Perkins urged people with damaged homes or businesses to document the damage with photos and videos before starting to clean up.
Document how high the water reached inside structures, which will help with claims and with broader research on the storm. Contact insurance companies and file a claim as soon as possible. Owners of electric vehicles that were flooded should not park them inside garages or close to structures because of the risk of spontaneous combustion, Perkins said.
She said officials have heard of at least one such incident.Citizens who need help cleaning up can call the Crisis Home Cleanup Hotline at 800-451-1954. The hotline will connect people with volunteers from local relief organizations, community groups and faith communities who can help cut fallen trees, remove damaged drywall, flooring and appliances, place tarps on roofs and assist with mold mitigation.
For more information on resources available, go to disaster.pinellas.gov.
— Tony Marrero
10:04 a.m. Flights resume at PIE
Flights are back at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport on Thursday, the airport announced in a press release.
The airport shut down Tuesday afternoon and reopened Wednesday at 3 p.m., but all Wednesday flights at PIE were canceled ahead of Idalia. Commercial flights resumed this morning.
For specific flight updates, travelers should check with their airlines.
— Bernadette Berdychowski
9:46 a.m. Big Bend region faces widespread power outages and ‘significant’ damage
About 40 rescue missions were successfully completed by officials related to Hurricane Idalia, Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Thursday.
Power had also been restored to more homes in the storm’s path. By 6 a.m. Thursday, about 146,000 homes were still without power, mostly concentrated in counties like Taylor, Madison, Levy and Dixie, DeSantis said.
DeSantis said damage to the Big Bend regions was “significant” and that the state had requested a major disaster declaration from the federal government for all 25 counties that were under a hurricane warning.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell joined DeSantis at the Tallahassee Emergency Operations Center Thursday morning, saying the federal government was committed to supporting the ongoing recovery effort.
Later today, DeSantis said he will travel to Cedar Key and Steinhatchee to see the damage there.
He applauded local officials for handling evacuation calls well. As of Thursday, there were no confirmed fatalities, which DeSantis said is not something most people would have bet on four to five days ago.
The Director of the Division of Emergency Management, Kevin Guthrie, asked people on Thursday clearing flooded homes and debris to separate the type of debris into piles, to help local officials and solid waste pickup. That includes a pile for furniture, a pile for muck, a pile for appliances, a pile for vegetation, etc.
If a home has been seriously flooded, people should make sure their electricity is off and they’re wearing proper safety equipment before entering their home, Guthrie said
— Romy Ellenbogen
8:45 a.m. What to do with storm debris in St. Petersburg
The city of St. Petersburg has released guidance for residents who have vegetative debris from Hurricane Idalia. The city is advising residents to place vegetative debris in trash cans or drop it off at one of the city’s brush sites.
Regular trash and recycling pickup resumes today.
— Tony Marrero
7 a.m. Waters receding, mess left behind in Tampa
In downtown Tampa early Thursday, some intrepid runners braved the sodden Riverwalk, which was by now possible since the waters from the Hillsborough River had receded. But lights were off in many spots and brown piles of debris and trash that had washed up from the river made it slower going than on most workday mornings.
Curtis Hixon Park, which was flooded and not passible on foot Wednesday unless you wanted to wade through ankle deep water, was navigable again. Garbage cans were piled high, often with beer and wine bottles, likely from people who came out Wednesday after the storm.
— Sue Carlton
6:50 a.m. Idalia expected to move offshore
Forecasters from the National Hurricane Center said Idalia was about 70 miles south-southwest of Wilmington, N.C. and was speeding east-northeast at nearly 21 mph at a 5 a.m. update. The storm was still holding strong with maximum wind speeds of 60 mph.
It’s expected to move just offshore of the coast of North Carolina on Thursday, and then over the western Atlantic into the weekend.
Though the storm has weakened significantly since it made landfall in Taylor County on Wednesday, forecasters warned Idalia could cause flooding across coastal North Carolina on Thursday.
— Michaela Mulligan
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