Tropical Storm Idalia keeps pounding the Southeast’s Atlantic coast, prompting flash flood warnings in North Carolina while parts of Florida’s west coast grapple with “significant damage” from the most powerful hurricane to slam its Big Bend region in more than a century.
Thousands of homes are damaged in Florida – some with shredded walls and roofs, others with murky, waist-high floodwater that officials warn could be dangerous for days to come.
But while some deaths were reported, the devastation was not as immense as it could have been after the Category 3 hurricane pummeled Florida before tearing through southern Georgia and South Carolina.
Some have credited improved forecasting for spurring residents to evacuate the right places well ahead of time.
The National Hurricane Center issued its first Idalia forecast Saturday – when the storm was near Cozumel, Mexico – and projected a US landfall within 10 miles of where it would strike five days later, near Keaton Beach, Florida.
By then, at least 28 Florida counties had issued evacuation orders.
“These forecasts were pretty doggone accurate, particularly compared to what happened with Hurricane Ian – where we went in a matter of 48 hours to potentially having a Big Bend impact, then all of a sudden migrating all the way down to southwest Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday.
No hurricane-related deaths had been reported, DeSantis said, even as Florida Highway Patrol reported two storm-related traffic deaths Wednesday.
A low death toll was “probably something that most people would not have bet on four or five days ago, knowing how strong the storm was going to get,” DeSantis said. “So my hat’s off to the people on the ground there who did a good job.”
Still, dozens of people had to be rescued from perilous floodwaters brought on by the double whammy of torrential rain and walls of seawater crashing onto land. And rescue operations will continue, the governor said.
And Idalia’s isn’t done, even as its center pushes out into the Atlantic Ocean. Some coastal areas far from the landfall zone on Thursday face the risk of isolated tornadoes and flooding: Water along North Carolina could rise up to 4 feet, the National Hurricane Center said.
“The combination of storm surge and tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the forecast center said.
Between 2 and 5 inches of rain have deluged parts of southeastern North Carolina, including the Wilmington area, where a flash flood warning was in effect early Thursday, the National Weather Service said. Parts of Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties were under the warning.
‘A life-changing event for some’
The storm has wreaked havoc as it smashed into Florida’s Big Bend area – between the panhandle and peninsula – near Keaton Beach, ripping off roofs and flooding homes as it pushed feet of seawater onshore along a wide swath of the state’s west coast.
Many places that bore the brunt “don’t necessarily have the resources” to handle such a powerful hurricane, said US Rep. Jared Moskowitz, who represents a South Florida district and used to lead the state’s Division of Emergency Management.
“There are some communities that may never look the same and others that will get rebuilt that will look slightly different,” he told CNN Wednesday night.
“This is a life-changing event for some of these counties.”
But some were grateful the impact was not more severe.
“We got buzz-sawed along the side, and quite honestly, while the effects could have been worse, we definitely took it on the chin,” said Administrator Mike Carballa of Pasco County, north of Tampa, which saw homes and streets inundated.
Officials urged thousands to evacuate before storm surge caused record-high water levels from Tampa Bay through the Big Bend. The storm also downed power lines and flooded parts of Georgia and South Carolina, including Charleston.
In Charleston, the storm tore down trees and led officials to close flooded roads, police said. Water also breached dunes at South Carolina’s Edisto Beach, the National Weather Service said.
There was “one unconfirmed fatality” in Florida in the storm’s aftermath, DeSantis said Wednesday.
Two men were killed in separate crashes Wednesday morning during severe storm conditions, Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Gaskins said earlier, noting both deaths were weather-related. It’s unclear whether DeSantis was referring to one of these crashes. CNN has sought clarification.
Another death was reported in Georgia’s Lowndes County, where a man died after a tree fell on him as he cut a tree on a highway, Sheriff Ashley Paulk told CNN.
Here are other developments from the storm as of early Thursday:
• Flood rescues: First responders rescued about 150 residents from flooded neighborhoods in Florida’s hard-hit Pasco County, north of Tampa, the fire rescue chief said. Some areas saw water surges between 3 and 5 feet.
• Thousands of homes damaged: Between 4,000 and 6,000 homes were inundated in Florida’s Pasco County alone, Carballa said.
• Historic water levels: South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor saw its waters spike to higher than 9 feet, making it the fifth-highest level ever recorded, the National Weather Service said. Cedar Key, East Bay Tampa, Clearwater Beach and St. Petersburg in Florida also experienced record storm surges.
Thousands in the dark: About 140,000 customers still had no power at 11 a.m., PowerOutage.com reported, while service had been restored to 420,000, DeSantis said Thursday.
• Residents urged to stay indoors: Florida officials are urging residents to avoid being outdoors as cleanup and search efforts remain underway. Taylor County Sheriff Wayne Padgett cited the dangers of downed trees and power lines.
• Boil water advisory: Some areas in DeSoto, Dixie, Leon, Levy, Marion and Taylor counties in Florida are under boil water notices issued by the state’s health department.
• Some school districts to reopen: At least 30 of 52 school districts that closed ahead of the storm are open again Thursday, DeSantis said. Eight are set to reopen Friday.
• Pushing out to sea: Idalia’s center as of 11 a.m. ET was about 85 miles southeast of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph and forecast to move farther into the Atlantic Ocean, the National Hurricane Center said. A tropical storm warning continued for South Santee River to the North Carolina-Virginia border, including Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds. A storm surge watch was still in effect for Beaufort Inlet to Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina, as well as the Neuse and Pamlico rivers.
Storm surge impacts yet to come
Idalia is expected to maintain its tropical storm status as it moves off the East Coast Thursday morning. Heavy rainfall amounts over South and North Carolina “will continue to lead to areas of flash, urban, and moderate river flooding, with considerable impacts,” the hurricane center explained.
Meanwhile, central Florida could see an additional 1 to 2 inches of rain Thursday.
On Wednesday, storm surge whipped up by Idalia set records for highest water level in several locations in Florida.
In Cedar Key, an island town about 80 miles north of Tampa, storm surge reached 8.9 feet, surpassing the 5.99 feet record set in 2016 from Hurricane Hermine.
Storm surge in Tampa’s East Bay was 5.7 feet Wednesday, roughly 2 feet higher than record seen in 2020 from Tropical Storm Eta.
And in Clearwater Beach, storm surge from Idalia reached 5.2 feet, eclipsing the 4.02 feet from the 1993 “Storm of the Century” that also snowed in much of the East Coast.
Source : CNN