Residents in the Florida Panhandle are assessing the damage from Tuesday’s storms. Action is underway on the local and state levels to deal with more than 20 inches of rainfall in some areas.
Gov. Rick Scott this morning declared a state of emergency in 26 counties – including Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton – eastward to Alachua County. He also toured the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center, meeting with officials and respondents, before going out to see some of the hardest-hit areas. One of those areas is a stretch of Scenic Highway – from Cervantes Street to Scenic Highway Circle – that has collapsed and is now closed.
“We have a lot of individuals here already, from FDOT (Florida Dept. of Transportation) and a lot from highway safety,” said the Scott. “The nice thing is, we have a state budget, that we can invest, and we’re going to be fixing those things.”
State Emergency Director Bryan Koon says they’re already gearing up for the next step towards cleanup and fixing the damage, and have been in touch with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Cong. Jeff Miller and U-S Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio have also been contacted by local officials, in hopes of speeding up federal response.
Elsewhere, the Florida National Guard has activated 75 personnel and two dozen high-water vehicles at the direction of the state Division of Emergency Management. They’re deploying to several Panhandle counties, with more available if needed. John Dosh, Escambia County’s Emergency Chief, says the rain wasn’t a surprise; but the amount of rain, was.
“I don’t think that anybody realized with this system ‘training’ like it was and actually stalling on top of us, that we would be talking about excessive rainfalls in the 20-inch frame,” said Dosh. “I don’t care where you are or what kind of flood program you have, you start getting that much rainfall in less than 24 hours you’re going to have massive flooding.”
About 22 inches of rain had fallen by midmorning Wednesday in Pensacola, with four more inches expected. In June, 2012, 20 inches of rain fell on the Pensacola area. Dosh says they’re able to apply lessons learned from that deluge to this one.
A major priority is housing. If a federal disaster declaration is issued, federal housing relief programs would be made available to eligible residents.
The death toll for the round of tornadoes, flooding and other severe weather from Oklahoma to the Carolinas now stands at 37 – including two drownings on Highway 29 in Cantonment, which were confirmed by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff David Morgan says as many as 40 or more roads and six bridges in the county could be unstable. He advises people stay off the roads if possible.