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Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday morning included Levy County in a long list of Panhandle and Big Bend counties in an emergency declaration.
Scott's action came as a storm front that dumped up to 13 inches of rain and caused high winds in the Panhandle moved toward the area bringing with it lightning, high winds and rain. According to National Weather Service, the front is slow moving and will bring rain to the area which is already experiencing high water levels.
Levy County Emergency Management Director Mark Johnson has been actively checking Suwannee River water levels and is keeping an eye on the storm front.
"We're working really close with the people on the Suwannee River," he said Wednesday afternoon, adding that his department was coordinating efforts with the Florida departments of Transportation and Health and the Levy County Sheriff's Office.
He said Scott's action is the first step in qualifying for federal aid from storm damage when, and if, a presidential disaster is declared.
"The real damage is up in the Panhandle" and flooding is, for now, worse in nearby Dixie, Gilchrist and Suwannee counties, he said. Still, the storm will prove to be a " bit of a long-term event."
Interestingly enough, the front is moving into the area as Johnson hosts a storm mitigation workshop today from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Emergency Operations Center (see story below).
The workshop is designed to help residents learn how to harden their homes and buildings against storm damage.
Johnson said residents living along the Suwannee should keep an eye on water levels — especially later in this week as the river continues to rise.
He said no evacuations are being ordered, but residents are to keep an eye out for the rising water and the problems it can bring. He said it's also a good idea for residents to purchase weather radios, which give updates and emergency alerts on storms and flooding conditions.
Johnson inspected the Fowlers Bluff area on Monday evening and said water was covering Northwest 46th Lane and was coming into yards along the roadway. He said water was on Northwest 154th Lane, Northwest 154th Court and Northwest 154th Terrace.
While waters are not predicted to get as high as the 2009 flooding at Fowlers Bluff and Camp Azalea, residents in those areas need to be aware that the National Weather Service has predicted that the river will continue rising until May 5 when they reach their crest, causing minor to moderate flooding.
At Wilcox, which also covers Fanning Springs in Levy County, the water is expected to reach 13.2 feet which is above the 11-foot flood level. At Manatee Springs it is expected to reach 9.7 feet which is just below the 10 foot flood level. At Fowlers Bluff on Wednesday afternoon, according to Johnson, the river had reached a level at just over 6 feet -- about 6 inches higher than flood level in that area -- and is expected to reach 6.6 feet later in the week. In 2009, the flood waters reached 14.2 at Wilcox, 10.5 at Manatee Springs and 7.2 at Fowlers Bluff.
For residents in low-lying area, sand bags and sand are available at the Levy County Department of Public Safety Fowlers Bluff Fire Station and at the Levy County Road Department in Bronson. The fire station is staffed during the daytime and the sand bags will be left outside the station when no one is on duty.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has had an idle speed, no wake zone along the Suwannee River throughout April and is asking boaters to understand that wakes can cause damage to homes and buildings along the shore. Boaters should be aware that there are rapid currents and debris which make for unsafe operating conditions.Report boating violations to FWC dispatch at 1-888-404-3922. Also, a violation of the speed zone is cause for a citation to be issued. The fine is $90, according to the Levy County Clerk of Courts Office.
The river is being patrolled by sheriff's deputies from Dixie and Levy counties and by the FWC.
The Levy County Commission, in conjunction with the Sheriff's Office has closed all the boat ramps in the county, and Dixie County has done the same. The American Red Cross is also on standby.
Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland is open, but is closed for swimming and diving due to spring brown out and the rising river levels. The park's Usher Boat Landing Road, Clay Boat Ramp and the boardwalk are also closed. Other park amenities are open.
Fanning Springs State Park is also closed to swimming and diving due to brown-out conditions and flooding. All other amenities are open and available at this time.
Storm-proofing homes can save lives and money
By MARK SCOHIER
Levy County residents can gain huge benefits from storm-proofing their homes, a member of Volunteer Florida told a small group in attendance at a storm mitigation workshop Wednesday at the county’s Emergency Operations Center.
Storm mitigation instructor Scott Jager told the group that storm upgrades are most important because they can save lives, but they also protects what is most people’s biggest asset: home sweet home.
Upgrading homes by addressing such things as windows, doors, roofing materials and anchoring mechanisms for roof trusses and framing can reduce damage, the potential for debris and recovery time to get back into the home after a severe storm.
“After hurricane Hugo,” Jager said, sharing a story from his past, “we lived in a 26-foot Shasta trailer for a year and a half.”
The average time to get back into a house is about 18 months, he said. Neighborhoods, on average, can go as long as 5 years before they are restored to pre-storm conditions.
Storm mitigation in the form of wind protection can significantly lower insurance premiums, as well, he said. “Wind is your highest rate in insurance,” though, he added, homeowners need to be diligent about asking for those discounts once upgrades have been made. “You gotta’ ask for them. You gotta’ push.”
And things need to be done by the book. Insurance companies want to see proof that permits were pulled and that inspections were done by local officials, he said.
Storm mitigation can also help boost the value of a home and make it easier to sell, he said.
“That’s the one the realtors gonna’ be pushin’."
Water and wind damage are the two biggest factors affecting homes during storms in Florida, but that damage can be reduced. For more information on what you can do to make your home safer during a storm, contact your area building inspector’s office or visit the following websites: www.BeReadyFlorida.org, www.floridadisater.org, www.florida.org/hrg/,www.floridabuilding.org, www.floir.com.