Local state of emergency extended for a second time

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Local state of emergency extended for a second time

A home on the Withlacoochee River, photo via Hernando County Government

“As of today the Withlacoochee river gauge at Trilby is at 16.9 feet,” said Emergency Operations Center Director Cecilia Patella on Monday Sept. 25, 2017. While finally on the decline, that height is still well above major flood stage. It won’t hit the mark of major flood stage until Wednesday Sept. 27, Patella explained.

With a quorum of 5, the Executive Policy group unanimously voted to extend the local state of emergency due to the ongoing Withlacoochee River flooding. The Executive Policy group consists of Interim Brooksville City Manager Lyndon Bonner, Robin Napier, Dr. Lori Romano Superintendent of Hernando County Schools, Sheriff Al Nienhuis (alternate Colonel Mauer), Wayne Dukes Chairman of Hernando County Board of County Commissioners and County Administrator Len Sossamon.

The local state of emergency was first implemented on Sept. 5, 2017.

“While many other counties in Florida have already shifted their focus to recovery effort,” said Patella, “for us about half of the county is focused on recovery and the other half, which is the entire length of the Withlacoochee River, is still focusing on the actual event as it continues to unfold.”

The Croom gauge on Monday was at 11 feet, which is moderate flood stage. Fortunately it never reached major flood stage in that location.

“Because we want to be able to continue the operations as they are, to continue to provide the residents with the resources that they need, my request is for the extension of the local state of emergency,” said Patella.

Currently there are no shelters open at this time. There are two active FEMA teams operating in the county going door to door.

County Administrator Len Sossamon pointed out that the river heights don’t account for any local rainfall events or rainfall in the Green Swamp.

Patella said that water coming out of the Green Swamp takes 5-8 days to enter the county, so it would require a significant rainfall event in the Green Swamp to impact the water levels here.

“But any local rainfall will prevent the river from receding as fast as we would like it to,” said Patella.

Chairman Dukes inquired about extending the local state of emergency 14 days. County Attorney Garth Coller, said that they can only extend 7 days due to state law.

Chairman Dukes asked if there is an estimate of the number of residents still in their homes in the flooded areas along the river.

The estimate given by County Administrator Len Sossamon was, “a majority,” specifying at least 75%.

Dr. Romano stated that there are many children from that area that are still unable to get to school.

Sossamon said that you might be able to go about 150 feet off of Highway 50 on Cyril Drive before you hit water.

“There are a lot of areas that are completely isolated, that’s not to say that the residents don’t have means to get in and out… The conditions along the river are dangerous and we’re certainly not encouraging the residents to stay there,” Patella said.

She explained that the federal program for transitional housing is an option they can consider. There are at least 5 hotels in Hernando County that are part of that program.

Sossamon agreed with Dukes’ assumption that most of the homes in that area have septic tanks along with wells.

“That is very problematic,” said Sossamon.

Dr. Romano stated that all of the schools in the county are collecting donations for families impacted by the flood waters of the Withlacoochee.

“We have 110 families with students that are having difficulty getting to school or are in need of resources,” said Dr. Romano. She explained that buses are going out to affected areas to bring the families the supplies they need. The district also opened up Parrott Middle School and Hernando High School last weekend so families can utilize the shower facilities there. They are also looking at alternate ways to get educational services to the students unable to get to school.

In terms of supply donations, Mary LeDoux, Principal at Eastside Elementary explained, “ We currently have about 55 families affected by the flooding. At this time, we are collecting non-perishable
items, especially snacks as well as mosquito repellent. EOC has provided us with MRE's, but I know that the kids would appreciate some snack items. Down the line after the waters recede, I am envisioning that cleaning
items would also be very beneficial.”

As far as debris removal, crews are halfway through the first pass of the county and then a second pass will take place. At tomorrow’s commission meeting (Sept. 26, 2017), an agenda item will address providing debris removal for gated communities.

“As a reminder, because only half our county is in recovery, we’re going to have debris on our eastern side… Once the water recedes, then a new set of damage assessment will happen...” She explained that debris removal for the areas along the Withlacoochee will take place separately from the two county-wide sweeps after water recedes and damages are assessed.

The building department is conducting damage assessments and a monetary figure of damages has yet to be determined due to the ongoing flooding situation.

“I’m not going to have a final number for several weeks because of the river (situation),” said Patella.