With Hurricane Idalia out of Florida, officials have begun returning operations to normal in Alachua County as the area received limited damage.
Regular hours are expected on Thursday for all Alachua County, city of Gainesville, Alachua County Public Schools, UF and SF College offices and programs. The city will open Cherry Pool at 1 p.m. and Ironwood Golf Course at 10 a.m. on Thursday.
Alachua County released its final update on the storm at 4:30 p.m. Forecasts for Alachua County threatened damage not seen locally in over 100 years, but Mark Sexton, spokesperson for the county, said in an interview that the county passed through with limited damage.
He said past hurricanes and tropical storms have caused worse damage in the past 20 years.
“We all were just watching the monitors and listening to those briefings every couple of hours, and at one point we thought, ‘OK, that’s it, it’s coming. It’s getting us, it’s hitting us.’ And then, at the 11th hour, it was just off and went to the north,” Sexton said.
The county’s Public Works Department cleared 70 trees fallen in roadways, and Sexton said the emergency shelters only housed around 100 people.
One reason for the quick response, Sexton said, was that the storm never intensified to the point where the county pulled crews from the road. Throughout the storm, sustained winds never really reached tropical storm strength he said, allowing immediate response to downed trees or lines.
Out of around 100,000 customer accounts, Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward noted that only 150 remain without power on Wednesday evening.
“That’s a testament to the value of investing in a great municipal utility as we have done over the years,” Ward told Mainstreet in a text message. “Our emergency response teams across city government responded exactly as trained and we should all be proud of them.”
Sexton said Hurricane Idalia ended up as excellent training for when a big storm might target the county. He said the county and cities were prepared to establish water and food supply areas and bought thousands of MRE from the state.
Because of the light damage, Sexton said the county is already responding to mutual aid requests from the counties that received the brunt of the impact. A portable radio system is already on the way to Cedar Key.
Gainesville also sent eight fire rescue personnel to join an urban search and rescue team in other parts of Florida.
Sexton said Hurricane Idalia is the first storm during his 19 years with the county where a mandatory evacuation order was in place—for mobile, manufactured or substandard homes and flood prone areas.
“We strengthened it to a mandatory evacuation and made sure that we had the shelters open to accommodate it,” Sexton said. “So, that was new, and it was kind of sobering. It’s like: this is real.”
He said county staff will continue examining public buildings for any damage and, as staff return to offices, he said they’ll address any issue. Bulk collection will also see heavier use in the coming weeks.
After a storm, Sexton said officials can hear feedback from both sides. Some say the messaging wasn’t strong enough while others say it was too strong with little follow-up damage. But Sexton said the emergency personnel will always decide with caution.
He said he doesn’t worry about residents ignoring future warnings.
“We respect our residents and know that they have discernment and that the vast majority of them understand why we react like we do,” Sexton said.