Cedar Key Fire and Rescue Chief Robert Robinson was transporting equipment from the station on Second Street Monday morning.
Just across the street, employees of Anderson Columbia, Inc. were packing up signs and tarping equipment they’ve been using as they work with FDOT to replace the C Street bridge.
“We’re removing signs and securing any flying objects,” construction manager Alen Deas said.
And Dr. Micheal Allen, director of the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station located on the waterfront on First Street, reported that he and his crew have battened down the hatches by securing any loose equipment. Any aerators in the aquarium are set up to switch to battery power at any time, since they serve as life support for the fish and turtles.
The town was quiet on Monday morning in contrast to the bustling Fourth of July weekend. Just a handful of people were at the city park using the beach. All of the fishing charter stands were empty with signs such as “Closed Due To Weather.” The parking lot was filled with parked pickup trucks hooked up to trailers with fishing boats.
Employees at Southern Cross Sea Farms were busy tumbling extra harvest loads of clams just in case.
According to David Peaton, assistant director of Levy County Emergency Management, Robinson is his point person on the coast during events such as Tropical Storm Elsa.
Peaton was holding down the fort at the Emergency Management center in Bronson on Monday. He expects to be putting in 12-hour-long days from here on out until Elsa passes and the expected storm surge recedes.
Peaton is in charge of communicating status and strategy with point people throughout Levy County. During the Elsa event he describes what that communication involves.
At 1 p.m. the National Weather Services conferences with emergency management, he said. Then comes the 2 p.m. meeting with all countywide emergency response partners, including Levy County agencies, the Red Cross, electric companies, water and sewer departments and every municipal official. That adds up to more than 100 people on the call.
At 4 p.m. Peaton is on a call with all 67 county emergency management departments.
“That’s just to make sure we don’t need anything,” he said.
At 5:15 p.m. he dials into the State Division of Emergency management meeting.
“That’s updates from the top all the way down,” Peaton said. “It can be overwhelming, but I’d rather have too many conference calls than not enough.”
All in all Peaton said the eight municipalities in Levy County work well together.
“We are super lucky we all work so good together,” he said. “That’s not the case for every county.
All eyes are on the coastal communities such as Cedar Key, but Peaton said they are more than prepared.
“Cedar Key gets storm surge so much they pretty much have it down pat,” he said. “They’ve installed wing gates on roads that flood frequently so they don’t have to set up cones.”
According to Peaton, county staff will be out checking to make sure all of the emergency equipment is ready starting early Tuesday morning.
“We’ll get ramped up,” he said. “They’ll be checking every building in the county, road department crews will check all roads to see which ones are getting close to flooding.”
This is Peaton’s fifth year handling storm events for Levy County and he said residents and municipalities can never be too prepared.
“A lot of people think you don’t have to worry about a tropical storm, especially if they live inland,” he said. “It’s so easy to be prepared versus being unprepared and getting blindsided.”
By Monday afternoon, Peaton sent out notice that Levy County public information phone lines will open at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
“Those phones will be staffed for the public to be able to contact us with any questions they may have,” he stated in a press release. Those phone lines are 352-486-5155 and 352-486-5576.
“The Emergency Operations Center has moved to what is known as a Level 2 activation which is the next step up from our standard activation level,” Peaton said in his afternoon briefing. The National Weather Service reported Elsa was packing wind gusts up to 65 miles per hour and moving at 14 miles per hour.
As of the last update from Peaton, coastal Levy County is under a storm surge watch and a tropical storm warning, while all of the county is under a tropical storm surge watch.
Peaton reported that a storm surge of 2 to 4 feet AGL (above ground level) and 4 to 6 feet MSL (mean sea level) is expected, most likely on Wednesday. While there are no evacuations or closures at this time, Peaton said that could change.
On Saturday Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in a group of Florida counties, including Levy. On Monday afternoon DeSantis had expanded the order to include Alachua and other counties.
The full list includes: Alachua, Charlotte, Citrus, Collier, Columbia, Dixie, Franklin, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lake, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Monroe, Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor and Wakulla counties.
DeSoto, Hardee and Miami-Dade counties are no longer under a state of emergency due to the changed projected path of Tropical Storm Elsa, the order states.