UNITED STATES NEWS

No power and nowhere to stay as rural Florida starts recovering from Hurricane Idalia

Aug 31, 2023, 10:03 PM | Updated: Sep 1, 2023, 1:56 pm

HORSESHOE BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The worst of Hurricane Idalia left residents of a region of tight-knit communities trying to find places to live as they rebuild — if they decide it’s even worth it — and waiting potentially weeks for electricity to be restored after winds and water took out entire power grids.

Idalia came ashore Wednesday in Florida’s sparsely populated Big Bend region, where places to fish and paddle are connected by swamps.

The scope of the disaster came into sharper focus Friday. A power cooperative warned its 28,000 customers it might take two weeks to restore electricity. Emergency officials promised trailers would arrive over the weekend to provide housing in an area that didn’t have much to begin with.

“We’ll build back. We’ll continue to fish and enjoy catching the redfish and trout and eating oysters and catching scallops and eating them,” said real estate agent Jimmy Butler, who lives in Horseshoe Beach, which saw some of the worst damage.

Idalia made landfall Wednesday near Keaton Beach with winds of 125 mph (200 kph) and a 6-foot (1.8-meter) storm surge. The fast-moving storm then tore through largely rural stretches of inland Florida and southern Georgia.

While the storm wreaked havoc on a slice of old Florida that has escaped massive coastal development, its path and forward speed spared the state’s insurance industry a huge financial hit, said elected Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, whose agency oversees the state Office of Insurance Regulation.

Two days after the more powerful Hurricane Ian hit southwest Florida last year around Fort Myers, for instance, the state reported more than 62,000 insurance claims. In the two days after Idalia, there have been about 3,000, Patronis said.

But some of the Big Bend’s older homes may have been passed down for generations, owned outright and not insured. People who lost everything may decide they can’t afford or it is not worth it to rebuild, leaving a bigger cultural impact than a financial one, Patronis said.

“This is somebody’s way of life. This is the way somebody took care of their families and their families took care of them and they’re hard working people,” Patronis said. “Mother Nature’s going to wipe them off the map and they’re going to say, ‘You know what? Maybe this is a sign for us to cash out.’”

Theresa Rae Gay’s neighborhood in St. Petersburg filled with a mix of ocean water, fresh water and sewage as the storm passed to the east. She lost many of her appliances and probably her furniture. It’s expensive but “part of the game,” she said.

“Still worth it to live in this neighborhood and we’re still happy to be here,” Gay said.

More than 100,000 homes and businesses in Florida and Georgia remained without power Friday, according to PowerOutage.us. And even with high temperatures below normal, the high humidity meant sweltering late-summer days and nights, with no power to run air conditioners.

The Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative warned its 28,000 customers to prepare to be without power for two weeks after hundreds of poles snapped, with thousands of reports of damage and downed lines. The utility was bringing in hundreds more workers for repairs and setting up generators for some restaurants and others.

“It’s going to take a while to get everyone’s power back on,” co-op CEO Mike McWaters wrote to customers.

It wasn’t as grim to the west, where Tri-County Electric Cooperative initially warned its 14,500 customers of two-week outages, but later said all but the worst-damaged homes, a few hundred, would be back online by Tuesday.

The key has been adding workers and quickly restoring the main transmission lines that bring power generated elsewhere in the state, spokesperson Kaitlyn Culpepper said. The Florida National Guard and the state Forestry Department are helping clear trees, Culpepper said.

One Georgia resident died when a tree fell on him as he tried to clear another tree from a road. Officials said there appeared to be a storm-related death around Gainesville, Florida, but did not release details.

Democratic President Joe Biden planned to visit Florida on Saturday and survey the damage with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — who is campaigning to unseat Biden — but details were still being worked out.

“What we want to do is make sure that power restoration continues, that the relief efforts continue, and we don’t have any interruption to that,” DeSantis said Friday. “I’m sure they’ll be sensitive to that.”

Recovery continued in other places, too. In hard-hit Valdosta, Georgia, where nearly half the surrounding county’s 32,000 electric customers remained without power, the local university stuck with its plans to play football Saturday but moved the game from the evening to the afternoon because of power issues.

Not only was about half of south Georgia’s pecan crop damaged — Idalia knocked over entire trees, ruining farms for many years, Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Tyler Harper said.

Georgia is the largest U.S. pecan producer, averaging about 88 million pounds of the nuts per year, about one-third of all of U.S. production, according to the University of Georgia Extension Service.

Idalia was a tropical storm by the time it reached South Carolina, but it brought a storm surge that — along with a periodic, unusually high tide — flooded Charleston and almost every beach community.

The storm eroded many of the dunes on the Isle of Palms, leaving crews scrambling to smooth out large drop-offs on beach access paths ahead of Labor Day weekend.

Beaches in Florida south of where Idalia’s center struck also suffered serious erosion. Pinellas County closed off 14 of 28 beach access walkovers in Indian Rocks Beach alone. The wooden walkway to the beach is now 4 feet (1.2 meters) above the sand in some places.

“We’ve probably lost about a third of the beach, if not more,” said Indian Rocks Beach City Manager Greg Mims.

The remnants of Idalia continued moving away from the U.S. on Friday. Forecasters warned it could become a tropical storm again Saturday and bring winds and rains to Bermuda, which also this week was lashed by winds and rain from the outer bands of Hurricane Franklin.

___

Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in Indian Rocks Beach; Daniel Kozin in Horseshoe Beach; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Jeff Amy in Atlanta; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.

___

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

United States News

Associated Press

UN envoy invites Syrian opponents for constitution talks in Geneva despite Russia’s opposition

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. special envoy for Syria issued formal invitations to the Syrian government and opposition groups on Tuesday to meet in Geneva in late April to resume negotiations on revising the country’s constitution, despite opposition from Damascus’ key ally Russia. Moscow insists the Swiss city is not a neutral venue because […]

6 minutes ago

Associated Press

New York doctor’s husband suing Disney for negligence in wrongful death case

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The husband of a New York doctor who died shortly after dining at a Disney Springs restaurant last year accused Walt Disney Parks and Resorts of negligence in a 19-page lawsuit filed in Florida. Jeffrey Piccolo is seeking in excess of $50,000 in the wrongful death of Kanokporn Tangsuan, a doctor […]

13 minutes ago

Associated Press

New York Democrats propose new congressional lines after rejecting bipartisan commission boundaries

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Democrats in charge of New York’s Legislature have proposed new lines for congressional districts that could give them a potential boost in the key battleground state hours after rejecting boundaries created by a bipartisan redistricting commission. The legislation proposed after Monday’s rejection vote leaves much of the Independent Redistricting Commission’s recently […]

24 minutes ago

Associated Press

Alabama lawmakers look for IVF solution as patients remain in limbo

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers are looking for ways to protect in vitro fertilization services in the state as patients, who had procedures cancelled in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling, remained stalled in their hopes of parenthood. The ruling, which raised immediate questions about what liability fertility clinics could face, had […]

37 minutes ago

Associated Press

Former NYU finance director pleads guilty to $3 million fraud scheme

NEW YORK (AP) — A former finance director at New York University has pleaded guilty to a more than $3 million fraud scheme that authorities say helped fund renovations to her home in Connecticut. Cindy Tappe, 57, of Westport, Connecticut, used her position at the Manhattan school to divert money intended for minority and women […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Fans cheer as Vancouver Canucks right wing Derek Dorsett (51) fights with New Jersey Devils ...

Associated Press

20 years since NHL’s record-setting brawl, fighting is down across the league but not going anywhere

Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno took a hit, delivered one of his own to Chicago’s Jarred Tinordi, and the two big guys in front of 82,000 people in the Meadowlands, it took even less for Matt Rempe and Matt Martin to spice up the Rangers-Islanders showdown with a fight. When Morgan Rielly cross-checked Ridly Greig for firing […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.

No power and nowhere to stay as rural Florida starts recovering from Hurricane Idalia