Road repairs, damage assessment and rising flood waters are among the more important issues facing Lake City and Columbia County Emergency Management officials as recovery efforts continue to deal with the wide array of challenges facing the county in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Debby which drenched the area with up to 31 inches of rain earlier in this week.
River flooding continues to be a key area of concern with both the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers expected to crest in upcoming days. At White Springs, the Suwannee River is expected to crest this afternoon at
slightly more than 85.2 feet which represents the third highest level recorded since the it was measured at 88.56 feet of 1973. The flood stage is 77 feet in White Springs. In other words the Suwannee River has risen an amazing 30 feet since Monday when it was measured at 55 feet. On the Santa Fe River, measurements are 25.1 feet at Fort White with flood stage at 24 feet and a crest expected Saturday at 31 feet. At Three Rivers Estates, the Santa Fe has reached 14.17 feet with flood stage at 19 feet and a crest expected Monday at 25.7 feet. Residents are strongly urged to consider evacuating area threatened by the floors when some areas are still passable, but will stop being open in a matter of days.
The Columbia County Sheriff’s Department has been extremely busy this week and has been assisted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Department as boats have been used to help stranded residents in
the flooded areas and to patrol areas to avoid burglaries as many homes are not inhabited during the flooding. The Sheriff’s Office reported having conducted more than 50 rescues this week, several of which were life saving situation while most were in the nature of assisting residents to evacuate.
Damage to roads and bridges is still being assessed as flood waters being to recede at areas away from the rivers. As of this afternoon 98 county roads remain closed due to flooding and damage. Two bridges are closed in the vicinity of Falling Creek and Cannon Creek. Public Works employees have been working around the clock trying to open roads where situationst allow. The department has given away more than 7,000 sandbags over the past two days to local residents. It is estimated that approximately 75% of county roads have had damage assessments so far. Flood waters will need to recede before all of the box culverts and bridges can be fully examined for damage.
Damage assessment teams continue to scour the county in order to identify structural damage, take photographs, location information and details as the county works to provide that information to state officials with expectations that will help the Federal Government to declare Florida as a Disaster Area. That will allow FEMA and other agencies to provide financial assistance for counties in the state and individuals who have had damages during this event. FEMA crews will spread out starting Monday throughout the more than 40 counties in Florida that were affected by the storm. It is believed that more than 60% of the buildings that have suffered damages in Columbia County have been already identified. That numbered more than 230 on Wednesday afternoon and that number will certainly increase.
Columbia County is also stocking up on chemicals to augment current inventories and begin an aggressive mosquito abatement program throughout our area.
A shelter for residents displaced by flooding and damage to homes remains open at Richardson Middle School in Lake City.