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Hurricane Irma devastates North Florida

Chevron gas station in Live Oak, near I-10, saw significant damage from Hurricane Irma.
-Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson

By Tami Stevenson

The wake of Hurricane Irma left North Florida devastated as 60 to 90 percent of consumers were left without power in almost every city throughout the entire state. It is now causing widespread flooding as rivers rise. Many homes are left destroyed from wind, tree damage and flooding. Many power lines are down throughout Florida, but Irma didn’t stop there as it swept through Georgia and the Carolinas leaving similar ravages. Our prayers go out to those families affected by this monster hurricane. Here are some local updates for our readers:

Local Power Outages:
Duke Energy customers in North Florida may not have power returned until Sunday.

Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative originally had 22,485 of their 25,651 consumers out of power. As of Wednesday, they had restored all but 7,722. They hope to have everyone’s power restored by the end of the week, according to Jon Little, SVEC Director of Communications.

Florida Power and Light (FPL), according to their website, crews are restoring power safely and as quickly as possible. “We estimate we will have restored power to essentially all of our customers along the east coast service territory by end of day, Sept. 17, and for customers along the west coast service territory by end of day, Sept. 22, with the possible exception of areas impacted by tornadoes, severe flooding and other pockets of severe damage.”

Help came from as far away as Minnesota as power trucks lined the highways from other states coming to Florida to help.

Bridges / Roads Closed
The FDOT and DHSMV, according to a news release, have now closed US 27 near the area of the Santa Fe River due to unprecedented flooding.

According to a release from Cody Gray, Columbia County, FL - The following bridges are now closed.

CLOSED U.S. Highway 27 Bridge
CLOSED U.S. Highway 41 Bridge
CLOSED C.R. 18 Bridge (at Union County line)

The release from FDOT stated that ...“The Santa Fe River under I-75 has rapidly risen 15 feet within the past 36 hours due to the heavy rainfall over North Florida from Hurricane Irma. In the event that I-75 closes, please see the detour map. Additional bridges on U.S. 27, U.S. 41, S.R. 47 and possibly U.S. 121 may be impacted. Florida Department of Transportation and Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles have staff monitoring the bridges that may be impacted by the flooding 24/7. If the river rises to an unsafe level, the bridge will be impassable both northbound and southbound, and would be closed immediately. Floridians that are traveling should avoid the area if possible.”

If the Sante Fe River rises to an unsafe level, it will require the full closure of I-75 south of I-10 and north of U.S. 441 in Alachua. Travelers should be prepared for significant delays from tomorrow evening through Saturday. This unprecedented river flooding will also cause closures and extensive rerouting of traffic on U.S. 27, U.S. 41, S.R. 47 and possibly U.S. 121. These routes would not be considered passable.

In the event of road flooding on I-75 at the Sante Fe River, FDOT will reroute traffic to U.S. 19, U.S. 301 and I-95. Any Floridian planning on traveling to Central or Southern Florida should consider traveling southbound on I-95.

Residents Near Rivers: Residents that live along rivers, specifically, the Santa Fe and Suwannee rivers, please monitor water levels closely, and make a plan (i.e. how will you leave, where you will go, and what is your route, etc.) as these rivers are expected to rise due to the large amount rain from the past two days. If you feel that your safety is in jeopardy, please leave your home. There is NOT a mandatory evacuation order.

Rivers’ anticipated crests:
Santa Fe River: 58 ft. at O’Leno Thursday
Santa Fe at Three Rivers: 25.50 ft. Thursday
Suwannee River: 77.30 ft. Tuesday Afternoon

School Closings
Within the seven counties the Suwannee Valley Times is distributed, all the school districts, according to their releases, will be closed until Monday, September 18. These counties include Suwannee, Columbia, Hamilton, Madison, Dixie, Gilchrist and Alachua County Schools. Please check with your local schools for updates.

SVEC said in a statement that Hurricane Irma was a historic storm and utilities are coordinating a historic response. Peak outage estimates indicate that there were 760,000 co-op outages in Florida, 535,000 in Georgia, and 100,000 in South Carolina.

Approximately 5,000 cooperative workers from 25 states have converged on the hurricane’s impact zone to assist restoration.

Another hurricane, Donna, in 1960 hit Florida on the same day Irma hit the state 57 years ago on September 10. Hurricane Donna was a Category 4 when it hit land also.

Power lines down in Wellborn. -SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson

Power lines tangled with trees in the town of Wellborn. -Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson

Roadways flooded in many areas of North Florida. Pictured above is a county road in Columbia County. -SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson

The Suwannee River in White Springs, pictured above, continues to rise.
-SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson

The Columbia County Fairgrounds filled with hundreds of power trucks last week waiting to help. Because of the roadways, Lake City is considered a hub and gateway to Florida. Many of these trucks deployed south to restore power throughout the state. -SVT Photo by Travis Green