North Central Florida recovers from Idalia 

Utility workers repair a power line in Fanning Springs on Wednesday.
Utility workers repair a power line in Fanning Springs on Wednesday.
Photo by Glory Reitz

As curfews lift and waters recede, authorities on the western side of North Central Florida assess damages and work to clean up Hurricane Idalia’s mess. 

Though Idalia became a Category 4 Hurricane before making landfall as a Category 3, it had lost much of its power by the time it reached the center of the state. Chiefland, about 20 miles inland, sustained several fallen trees, blown branches and buckled garage doors. The town also lost power, including to its traffic signals, but overall saw little significant damage. 

Only a little further to the northwest, Cross City had trees down across town, bending a multitude of power lines and snapping poles. Residents picked up branches from their front yards Wednesday afternoon only feet away from power and phone lines coiled on the ground. 

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In other areas along the coast, Idalia picked up the ocean and moved it into town. 

A man cleans up on Wednesday afternoon in Steinhatchee.
Photo by Glory Reitz A man cleans up on Wednesday afternoon in Steinhatchee.

Taylor County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management issued a curfew early Wednesday morning before Idalia swept through. 

The Category 3 hurricane downed power lines, overturned boats and flooded Steinhatchee, a coastal town in Taylor County. By Wednesday afternoon, residents were making their own paths for golf carts and cars to avoid trees and power lines in the roads. Though the tide had receded, it had left picnic tables, boats, bikes and clothing displaced. One portion of blacktop was lifted into a flooded ditch, replaced by bare sand and a scattering of seashells. 

On Thursday, Taylor County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook to let the public know it will provide MREs and water to Steinhatchee residents as they continue to recover. 

Cedar Key, a Levy County island that many central Floridians enjoy as a vacation spot, is also home to about 700 citizens, 100 of whom decided to shelter in place through the storm, against the recommendation of a mandatory evacuation order. Their town was flooded 11 feet above sea level at high tide, and authorities blocked the bridge from anyone wanting to enter the town. 

The Levy County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) has a re-entry plan and encourages people not to attempt to get back into Cedar Key before their turn, according to LCSO spokesperson Lt. Scott Tummond. 

Tummond said the most difficult part of the response was getting into water-inundated areas like Cedar Key and Yankeetown. Once the tide went down and responders were able to check that residents were safe, the sheriff’s department, police, Florida Highway Patrol and National Guard were all focused on cleanup. 

Levy County suffered no fatalities from the storm, and only one minor injury when someone fell, according to Tummond. After search and rescue teams confirmed shelter-in-place residents were safe, they moved into recovery mode, assessing damages and providing essential items to coastal communities. 

“We’re very, very fortunate, and I can’t say enough about that,” Tummond said in a phone interview Wednesday. 

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has a facility in Cedar Key called the Nature Coast Biological Station (NCBS). The station is used to study things like wildlife ecology, climate change and water quality, but on Tuesday The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore moved in with air mattresses, food and a generator to broadcast the storm. 

Mike Allen, director of NCBS and a Cedar Key resident who evacuated to Gainesville, said while the NCBS building is built to last through a Category 4 hurricane, it is unusual for someone to stay there because after the storm passes there is nowhere to go. 

The NCBS facility was perfect for The Weather Channel because it was “the perfect place” to show a storm surge’s effects, Allen said in a virtual press conference Wednesday. He said the educational value was also in line with IFAS’s goals. 

While the storm brought significant flooding, Allen said the wind damage was not as bad as it has been before. Looking back on Hurricane Hermine in 2016, which flooded about a foot and a half less than Idalia, Allen said the tight-knit community rebuilds quickly. 

“The town gets to work and within, I would say, eight weeks of that storm you would have a hard time seeing that Cedar Key had been impacted by that storm… we will build it back and we will be operational,” Allen said. 

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