STORM UPDATE 7/3/2012 3:00 PM

There is a piece of good news in today’s afternoon update as the National Weather Service indicates the
Santa Fe River has crested at Three Rivers Estates. The reading at 6:00 a.m. today showed a level of 22.93 feet, compared to 23.25 on Monday evening. According to the report, the river will recede very slowly with a return to flood stage at 19 feet not expected to occur until mid-month. At Fort White, the river level was at 30.14 feet, also at 6:00 a.m today. The level was reported to be 31.34 yesterday evening. The Suwannee River was measured at 82.5 feet at 7:00 a.m. today and the river is predicted to return to within its banks at the flood stage of 77 feet on July 8.

The Columbia County Emergency Management team currently holds a briefing each day at 8:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. On Thursday, the evening briefing will become a part of the Board of County Commissioners meeting at 7:00 p.m. at the Columbia County School Board Auditorium on U.S. 90 West. The briefing will
be an opportunity for residents attending the meeting to get a first-hand explanation of  the county’s response to the flooding and damages caused by Tropical Storm Debby.

An extensive overview of efforts by the Columbia County Public Works Department was given this morning. Among the statistics was information about road damages in the county. We have approximately 600 miles of paved county roads in Columbia County, 148 miles of the paved roads have been affected by flooding. Temporary repairs have been made to approximately 15% of that total with the remainder not being able to assess because of standing water on the roads.

Four bridges have been affected by the flooding. Those are identified as CR 245, CR 241, the bridge at Falling Creek and on Lassie Black Road. Only the Lassie Black Bridge is completely destroyed. The bridges at CR 245 and CR 241 have both received temporary repairs to make them passable. In addition, the two bridges have extensive corrosion damage on guard rails approaching the bridges.  The bridge at Falling
Creek is being worked on for temporary repairs and is expected to be passable some time on July 4. Public works director Kevin Kirby says permanent repairs/replacement of the four bridges is expected to take 3-5 months to complete.

In terms  of dirt roads, Columbia County has 465 miles of those type roads. Kirby estimates that 372 miles of that total has been damaged by the flooding over the past week. It is estimated that 60% of those roads
have had temporary repairs. Water standing in the roads continues to be a big issues.  It is estimated that
approximately 100 roads remain either closed or open only to residents living in the immediate area.

The Public Works Department has hired 11 contractors to assist with repairs to county roads with assistance from the two water management districts in Northeast Florida, along with other state agencies. In all, more than 100 employees of the department have been working on an around-the-clock basis on repairs. In
addition to the equipment being used by outside contractors, Columbia County has been utilizing more than 90 pieces of its own industrial equipment on the repair work. Activities such as pumping, mosquito spraying and construction have dominated the time of the department over the past week. In addition, with the assistance of inmates, more than 12,000 sand bags have been distributed. In terms of an estimation of the cost of damages for infrastructure, it is expected to be in excess of $10 million. A final number won’t be known until flooding recedes and public work can fully assess the damage to box culverts and the base
of roads still under water.

According to the Damage Assessment Teams, more than 400 homes have been affected by the flooding. Included in that count are homes that have been inaccessible, damaged or destroyed. No dollar value has been placed yet on the amount of damage to the homes of area residents. In terms of how many people have been affected, a true statement would be that all 67,000 of our residents have been affected in  one form or another. An estimate by the assessment team and reports from area charitable organizations indicates that at least 10,000 residents have been directly impacted by the storm and flooding.

Mosquitoes spraying is continuing each night, augmented by treating standing water locations with
pellets that kill larvae. A public shelter remains open at Richardson Middle School. Water testing kits are available at the Columbia County Health Department.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, augment by officers from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission,
Department of Agriculture and Florida Highway Patrol,  have a stepped-up surveillance program underway throughout the county with a particular emphasis on patrolling areas flooded by the storm.