Recovery efforts, searches begin in the wake of Idalia
TALLAHASSEE --- Recovery efforts, including restoring power and searching damaged properties, began Wednesday after Hurricane Idalia made landfall in a sparsely populated area of the Gulf Coast before crossing parts of North Florida into Georgia.
More than 500,000 utility customers had lost power during the storm, which came up the Gulf of Mexico before crashing ashore about 7:45 a.m. in Taylor County’s Keaton Beach area. The state as of early afternoon had not confirmed any deaths.
State Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said crews started “search, secure and stabilize” recovery efforts after Idalia made landfall about 75 miles southeast of Tallahassee as an “extremely dangerous” Category 3 storm packing maximum sustained winds of 125 mph.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said crews had restored power to about half of the 500,000 utility customers who lost electricity in various parts of the state. But he said the number of outages could increase.
DeSantis and Guthrie planned to travel Wednesday afternoon to the Taylor County community of Perry for a news conference as post-storm assessments were underway.
Duke Energy Florida, which serves many areas hit by Idalia, reported midday Wednesday that more than 64,000 customers did not have electricity, while the utility had restored power to nearly 70,000 others.
The company advised customers in the hardest-hit areas to anticipate extended outages, noting that restoration can be slowed by high winds and widespread flooding.
About 42,000 customers of municipal utilities had power outages as of noon. Amy Zubaly, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, said in a news release that service had been restored for about 52,000 others.
Tampa Electric Co. reported that most of its 35,000 customers who lost power in Idalia were back online by the time the storm made landfall.
“The weather impact was not as severe as anticipated, and our crews were able to work through the night to restore customers during the storm,” Tampa Electric President Archie Collins said in a statement.
With landfall in rural North Florida, Idalia is expected to cause less damage than Hurricane Ian, which hit the Fort Myers area last year. But conducting searches and helping residents can be more time-consuming in sparsely populated areas, Guthrie said.
“Up here in the Big Bend, you may have two houses on a five-mile road,” Guthrie said.
Along with Taylor County, the storm was expected to cause significant damage in rural areas such as Levy, Suwannee and Madison counties. Initial reports included Madison County being nearly 100 percent without electricity and flooding in Levy County’s low-lying Cedar Key, officials said.
Idalia pushed sea waters up to 16 feet in some areas of the Gulf Coast.
Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue said about 1,000 bridges were being inspected to make sure they are safe. More than 900 flights were canceled or delayed in Florida because of the storm.
Flights were expected to resume Wednesday night at Tampa International Airport and Gainesville Regional Airport. Tallahassee International Airport is set to reopen Thursday morning.
The state relies on confirmation of fatalities from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, based on information from medical examiners.
“I think there have been unconfirmed reports of traffic fatalities that may be storm-related and maybe not,” DeSantis said. “Obviously, it was happening within the time that the storm was either approaching or was on target.”
Meanwhile, what DeSantis called an “ancient” oak tree split in half and fell at the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee. DeSantis said the first family was OK.