Alachua, Columbia counties see less damage than expected

The eye of Tropical Storm Elsa maintained a northward trajectory and skirted Alachua and Columbia counties, but wind and heavy rains on already saturated ground sparked scattered flooding, downed trees and power outages in the area.

Alachua County closed three roads Wednesday afternoon due to heavy water flow, but none have been washed out, the county reported. The roads are 34th Street from Williston Road to US 441, NE 70th Place from SR 26 and NE 77th Lane from NE 179 Street to CR 1469.

SW Wacahoota Road was also temporarily closed east of SW 16th Street as workers clear a fallen tree from a Clay Electric power line.

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In a phone interview, Mark Sexton, communications director for Alachua County, said the emergency operation center remains at Level 2 activation going into the late afternoon.

“We are prepared and will respond as they come up,” Sexton said in a phone interview.

He said the county is grateful it didn’t take a direct hit but it also isn’t out of the woods. All emergency personnel are working or on standby, if needed.

Hurricane Elsa was downgraded to a tropical storm Wednesday morning before coming ashore around 11 a.m. near Steinhatchee—more than 40 miles north of Cedar Key, which had braced for a direct hit. It moved north into South Georgia Wednesday afternoon, but continued rain makes flooding in North Florida an ongoing possibility. 

By 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, the Suwannee River Water Management District reported Newberry had received 4.4 inches of rain, while a monitoring station at Forest Grove Tower in Alachua County recorded 5.5 inches.

The highest recorded total in the area came at the Goethe State Park station in Levy County, which saw 5.6 inches of rain by 2 p.m., bringing its seven-day total to 9.5 inches. Four sites in Columbia County recorded between 2.5 and 4.3 inches of rain by 2 p.m.

Columbia County received about what it had expected, according to Shayne Morgan, the county’s emergency management director. He said there were a few power outages reported, mostly around Columbia City and Ellisville, but so far, no dangerous flooding reports.

“So far, we’ve fared fairly good through this,” Morgan said in a Wednesday afternoon phone interview. He said Columbia County has no closure plans for Thursday.

Sexton advised anyone living near large bodies of water to have a backup plan, saying local hotels have openings if citizens feel at risk.

Overall, Sexton said Alachua County has fared better than he was expecting concerning power outages and damage, especially considering the storm was categorized as a hurricane last night and into this morning.

But, he said the county always prepares for the worst and hopes for the best.

Officials are asking citizens to document damage and report downed power lines to their provider:

  • Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) 352-334-2871
  • Clay Electric 888-434-9844
  • Duke Energy 800-228-8485
  • The City of Alachua’s Electric System 386-418-6185
  • Florida Power and Lights 1-800-4-OUTAGE (1-800-468-8243)
  • The City of Newberry Electric Utility 352-472-2161

Alachua County has set up an online portal for reporting damage

For the latest storm updates, the 311 Critical Information Line is still open. All non-emergency law enforcement issues, call 352-955-1818.

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