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‘We haven’t seen the worst’ of hurricane flooding

Mark Parker

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Flooding from Hurricane Idalia inundates St. Petersburg's Shore Acres neighborhood. Photo: Kelly Sycz-Bayers, Facebook.

Idalia made landfall near Keaton Beach in Florida’s Big Bend region at around 8 a.m. Wednesday as a Category 3 hurricane; however, local flooding impacts will persist throughout the day.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) closed access to all barrier islands at 6:30 a.m. as a four-to-seven-foot storm surge inundated coastal streets. Officers will not allow re-entry, including for residents with permits, until further notice.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said waters will continue rising. He expects flooding to peak after 11 a.m. and persist into the late afternoon.

“I want to stress this – we haven’t seen the worst of it,” Gualtieri said. “There are a lot of water rescues that are going on. People are in their homes; they’re getting water intrusion. We have teams set up with high water rescue vehicles and shallow water boats.”

Flooding surrounds a Treasure Island Fire Rescue station. Photo: City of Treasure Island.

He noted that the situation along Gulf Boulevard is worsening, and beach roads are impassable from the Dunedin Causeway to the Pinellas Bayway. Florida National Guard personnel have deployed to seven sites throughout Pinellas to assist local first responders with rescues.

RELATED STORY: Hurricane Idalia: County-wide flooding in photos

Cathie Perkins, county emergency director, said over 1,800 people sought shelter overnight. Those facilities will remain open throughout the day.

“We know that we have some people that are leaving flooded areas, and they’re moving to shelters,” Perkins added.

At a Wednesday morning press conference, Mayor Ken Welch said St. Petersburg experienced about a four-foot storm surge. Residents in low-lying areas such as Shore Acres and Snell Isle reported significant flooding.

Welch noted that firefighters conducted a high-water rescue at the Twin City mobile home park off Gandy Boulevard Wednesday morning. Area bridges remain closed.

“Make no mistake, this hurricane left its mark,” Welch said. “The reality is that we’re not done dealing with the consequences from this major storm.”

He said there is potential – and an expectation – for tornadoes to spawn throughout the day. “Governor (Ron) DeSantis stated earlier this morning that the region had 11 tornado warnings,” Welch added.

City crews are performing initial impact assessments. Fallen trees have brought down several power lines, and about 4,000 homes remain without power.

Winds peaked at around 50 mph in the city overnight, and Welch said crews have not seen significant debris blocking city streets. Rising waters are the greatest concern, and he said businesses and homeowners have experienced “severe” flooding.

City officials continue monitoring storm surge impacts on utilities and infrastructure. They are also “strongly” urging residents to minimize water consumption and refrain from washing dishes or laundry.

Welch said St. Petersburg first responders will use PCSO buses and six to eight boats for high-water rescues. He expects the highest storm surge to occur at around 2 p.m.

“All residents need to stay vigilant for just a few more hours, and we’ll get through this,” Welch said.

Emergency Manager Amber Boulding said city officials expected Idalia’s impacts to mirror Hurricane Eta’s in 2020. “I would say this is at least Eta, and maybe a little worse,” she added.

“Our hope is at 2 o’clock we’ll see our peak, or maybe even before that, and it’ll (flooding) will start receding,” Boulding said. “But I would say, at least through this evening, those (flood-prone) neighborhoods won’t be safe.”

 

 

 

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