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September 2017

Officials: Flooding won’t close Interstate 75

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By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

Posted: Sep 14 2017 11:07AM EDT

– Hurricane Irma evacuees trying to return home can breathe a little easier. The Florida Department of Transportation said Thursday the state will not have to close a portion of Interstate 75 in Alachua County, as Santa Fe River flooding has started to recede.

“As of this morning, FDOT engineers and state meteorologists do not believe that the Santa Fe River will reach a level to make the interstate unsafe,” a news release from the Department of Transportation and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said.

State officials had warned Wednesday that they were watching a small bridge on Interstate 75 at the northern border of Alachua County because the Santa Fe River was expected to crest at “historic and unprecedented levels.”

If the interstate — heavily traveled even in normal times — would have been forced to close, it would have created a bottleneck for residents of South and Central Florida trying to return home after evacuating to northern parts of the state or to other states.

Also contributing to the potential problem was that parts of U.S. 27 and U.S. 41 in the area remain closed because of Santa Fe water levels.

The announcement Thursday about keeping the interstate open came as crews continued working to restore electricity across large swaths of the state and residents and businesses grappled with damage.

As of 9 a.m. Thursday, Duke Energy Florida said 569,853 customers — nearly a third of its customer base — lacked power, while electricity had been restored to 824,084 customers. Pinellas County had the largest number of Duke customers still out, 184,054, while Orange County had 97,178 out, according to the utility.

The Florida Municipal Electric Association also said 224,836 customers of municipal utilities remained without power and that electricity had been restored to about 600,000 customers. Duval County had the largest number of municipal customers without power, 79,398, while Orange County had 31,000.

Meanwhile, 85 percent of municipal-electric customers in Monroe County did not have power. Irma made initial landfall Sunday in the Florida Keys, part of Monroe County, before making landfall again in Southwest Florida.

Thousands of insurance claims from the storm also have started to be filed as homeowners and business owners see the damage inflicted by Irma.

Michael Peltier, a spokesman for Citizens Property Insurance Corp., said the state-backed insurer had received about 15,000 claims as of 8 p.m. Wednesday, with most coming from Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward counties. He said the insurer does not have initial estimates of losses.

State Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier late Wednesday issued an emergency order that carried out a series of directives by Gov. Rick Scott. Among other things, Scott directed a 90-day “freeze” on proposals that could lead to increased property-insurance rates.

That will push back until December a decision by the state Office of Insurance Regulation about whether to approve a pending rate proposal by Citizens. The proposed effective date of the rate changes, which would include increases for many Citizens customers, was Feb. 1.

Peltier said Citizens officials are looking at whether the 90-day delay in a decision about the rate filing could push back the effective date of changes.

The Florida Department of Transportation says it is actively working with WAZE, Google Maps, the Georgia Department of Transportation and other transportation industry partners to route evacuees most efficiently.  They say Floridians should consult www.FL511.com for up-to-date information on road closures and travel routes.

FEMA: How it works and how to reach them

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– FEMA is offering individual assistance to victims of Hurricane Irma in counties covered by the disaster declaration. However, that does not currently include all counties in our Tampa Bay viewing area that took some of the hardest hits from hurricane Irma.

This is because FEMA is still in the early phases of assessing damage, and has not completed the surveys in some counties that serve as a precursor to determining eligibility for individual assistance.

The zone has expanded as FEMA inspects the region, and may continue to expand.

Meanwhile, FEMA does not yet have mobile disaster recovery centers in place, but people who need help can reach out to FEMA online or by phone.

MORE: FEMA offers help to Irma victims in some counties

People can register for help through DisasterAssistance.Gov or through the FEMA App. People who do not have Internet access may call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). A disaster inspector will schedule a visit to properties in areas covered by the declaration. FEMA urges applicants to note whether the home is safe to enter.

“Please don’t wait for disaster recovery centers to open. Register for FEMA assistance now as soon as it is safe to do so,” said FEMA spokesman John Mills. “Damage assessments are ongoing, and additional counties based on those damage assessments may be added to the disaster declaration.”

LINK: FEMA’s disaster declaration for Florida
LINK: FEMA updates on the declaration and eligibility for individual assistance

Much of the damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma will be covered by private homeowner’s insurance or flood insurance. FEMA helps people who do not have insurance, or helps fill gaps for what insurance does not cover. It offers low-interest disaster loans, grants for home repairs, temporary housing support and other assistance depending on the extent of damage and circumstances.

“FEMA has been a great partner,” said Governor Rick Scott. “What the president gave us with the major declaration is going to help our families get back to a normal life as fast as possible.”

Irma Sliding North Of Hispanola; Hurricane Watches Now Up For South Florida

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At 11AM Thursday, Irma remains a dangerous category 5 hurricane with winds of 175 mph. It’s moving WNW at 16 mph and is located about 120 miles SE of Grand Turk Island in the Turks & Caicos. Irma is expected to continue this general WNW motion over the next couple of days before making a northward turn as it nears the state of Florida. Hurricane watches are now up for all of South Florida.

irma-4

The time of that right hand turn is critical in determining the range of impacts felt across the state. The worst of the weather will be felt on Irma’s northern and eastern sides. Areas directly in front of and east of the center of the storm can expect sustained hurricane force winds for a time. While winds on the western side of the eye will be decreasing the further west you go. It’s still too early to pinpoint the impacts for an exact location, as a shift in track of just 20-30 miles could dramatically change who sees what. As of now, the entire Florida peninsula is in the cone of uncertainty and should be preparing accordingly. Mandatory evacuations are now in effect for the Florida Keys, as well as coastal portions of Miami-Dade, Broward, Brevard, and Martin counties. Heed warnings of local authorities.

irma-5 irma-6

Impacts across the northern Caribbean over the next couple of days will be quite extreme. Here is the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center…

STORM SURGE:  The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline.  The water is expected to reach the following HEIGHTS ABOVE GROUND if the peak surge occurs at the time of high tide…

Jupiter Inlet to Bonita Beach, including Florida Keys…5 to 10 ft

The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast in areas of onshore winds, where the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.  Surge related flooding depends on the relative timing of the surge and the tidal cycle, and can vary greatly over short distances.

The combination of a life-threatening storm surge and large breaking waves will raise water levels ABOVE NORMAL TIDE LEVELS by the following amounts within the hurricane warning area near and to the north of the center of Irma.  Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.

Turks and Caicos Islands…15 to 20 ft
Southeastern and central Bahamas…15 to 20 ft
Northwestern Bahamas…5 to 10 ft
Northern coast of the Dominican Republic…3 to 5 ft
Northern coast of Haiti and the Gulf of Gonave…1 to 3 ft
Northern coast of Cuba in the warning area…5 to 10 ft

Water levels around Puerto Rico should subside today.

WIND:  Hurricane conditions are expected to begin within the hurricane warning area in the Dominican Republic and Haiti today. Hurricane conditions are expected to begin in the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands later today with tropical storm conditions expected within the next several hours.  These conditions will spread into the central Bahamas by tonight or early Friday.

Hurricane and tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area in Cuba by Friday.  Tropical storm conditions are expected to begin within the warning area in Cuba tonight. Hurricane conditions are expected in the northwestern Bahamas Friday night and Saturday.

RAINFALL: Irma is expected to produce the following rain accumulations through Saturday evening:

Northeast Puerto Rico and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands… additional 2 to 4 inches, isolated 6 inches
Much of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos…8 to 12 inches, isolated 20 inches
Andros Island and Bimini, Bahamas…12 to 16 inches, isolated 25 inches
Northern Dominican Republic and northern Haiti…4 to 10 inches, isolated 15 inches
Southern Dominican Republic and southern Haiti…2 to 5 inches
Eastern and central Cuba…4 to 10 inches, isolated 15 inches
Southeast Florida and the upper Florida Keys…8 to 12 inches, isolated 20 inches
Lower Florida Keys…2 to 5 inches

In all areas this rainfall may cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

SURF:  Swells generated by Irma are affecting the northern Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the southeastern Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, and should start affecting portions of the southeast coast of the United States later today and tonight.  These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.

A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for…
* Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach
* Florida Keys

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for…
* Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to the northern border with Haiti
* Haiti from the northern border with the Dominican Republic to Le Mole St. Nicholas
* Southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands
* Central Bahamas
* Northwestern Bahamas

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for…
* Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach
* Florida Keys
* Lake Okeechobee
* Florida Bay
* Cuba from Matanzas province eastward to Guantanamo province

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for…
* Dominican Republic from south of Cabo Engano westward to the southern border with Haiti
* Haiti from south of Le Mole St. Nicholas to Port-Au-Prince
* Cuba provinces of Guantanamo, Holguin, Las Tunas, Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus and Villa Clara.

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