Officials urge residents to document Elsa damage

As Elsa sends rain bands through North Florida, state and local officials are calling on residents to stay safe and document any damage.

By 8 a.m. Wednesday meteorologists pegged Elsa—which downgraded again to a tropical storm earlier in the morning—at 35 miles west of Cedar Key with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph and traveling north at 14 miles per hour. Its projected landfall had moved north of Cedar Key to Steinhatchee.

During a morning press conference Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned that tornadoes could possibly occur across Florida throughout Wednesday afternoon.

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“As of 6 a.m., 26,000 customers are without power,” DeSantis said, addressing the press from the state emergency operations center in Tallahassee. He noted most outages so far were in the Tampa Bay area, including Hillsborough, Polk and Pinellas counties.

Now is the time to use common sense and stay safe, DeSantis emphasized, reminding residents that there will be flooded roads and downed trees in Elsa’s wake.

“Twelve inches of fast-moving water can carry a vehicle away, ” he said, while also asking Floridians to stay away from downed power lines and be careful operating any generator. DeSantis said inhalation of carbon monoxide produced by generators has caused more deaths in four years than direct impact from storms.

The storm will have less impact than initially thought in residential coastline areas, DeSantis said, noting that the storm “wobbled to the west,” which minimized impact on Tampa Bay. The westward drift also helps Gainesville and Alachua County, which had both declared states of emergency ahead of Elsa’s arrival. 

Now, the storm will head toward the Big Bend and affect rivers there.

Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, also emphasized the importance of documenting storm damage.

“The division works very closely with FEMA on post landfall to make sure all damage is properly submitted,” he said. Guthrie urged residents to capture damage in photographs of debris, high water lines and property damage.

“This will help you ensure that any insurance claims you may need to submit once the storm passes will be valid and help speed up that process,” he said. “Accurate and comprehensive documentation of damage can help the state secure federal recovery funding.”

He asked residents to take pictures of homes and surrounding areas in the community and to tag @FLCERT when posting those photos on Facebook and Twitter.

Residents can report any damage to FEMA directly (see application checklist) or go through a local report agency. Alachua County has set up an online portal for reporting damage. 

Levy County has also set up a page that allows residents to make a report through its local portal.

David Peaton, assistant director of Levy County Emergency Management, said his county will send up drones to survey damage but said officials also need reporting help from citizens. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

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