A long recovery starts for rural Florida county hit by Idalia

'As bad as it is, it still ain’t as bad as it could have been,' Taylor County Sheriff Wayne Padgett said.

People survey the damage and flooding in Steinhatchee on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, after Hurricane Idalia passed through.

People survey the damage and flooding in Steinhatchee on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, after Hurricane Idalia passed through. Photo by Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Several hours after Hurricane Idalia hit, Gov. Ron DeSantis went to rural Taylor County, where debris, downed trees and some power lines littered the roads.

The Category 3 storm made landfall in Taylor County’s Keaton Beach area, and Sheriff Wayne Padgett said other hard-hit areas included downtown Perry and Steinhatchee, “a little fishing village on the coast down there,” which he said had the most storm surge.

“As bad as it is, it still ain’t as bad as it could have been,” Padgett said.

Padgett also said that no fatalities had been reported “that we know of, right now.” On Thursday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported one storm-related death in Alachua County that was confirmed by the state's Medical Examiners Commission. 

Idalia, which made landfall about 7:45 a.m. with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph, pounded rural Florida counties, including Taylor, Dixie, Levy, Suwannee and Madison, before racing into South Georgia. DeSantis said clearing debris and downed trees will be a “huge effort.”

“There’s going to be a lot that’s going to be required to be able to clean this up, and to get everything back up and running again,” DeSantis said during a news conference. 

At the time of DeSantis’ visit, a bridge leading into Steinhatchee was not passable. It has since reopened, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. 

The governor said that some aspects of recovery in the area could take months: “You have people’s lives that have been at risk. ... (Y)ou have people whose livelihoods have been turned upside down, so they’re going to need support.” 

DeSantis contrasted the impacts of Hurricane Idalia with Hurricane Ian, which devastated Southwest Florida nearly a year ago.

“I can tell you, with Hurricane Ian … within an hour after it hitting, there were frantic phone calls to 911 locally there, of people that were literally drowning in their house,” DeSantis said.

“And I remember talking to the sheriff down in Lee County on the phone, just the feeling of dread that those phone calls represented. You knew that there were going to be a lot of problems. We have not seen that in the same way on this storm.”

DeSantis added that “a lot of people really heeded the warnings that their local officials issued.” The Taylor County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday issued a mandatory evacuation order for all coastal residents.

Padgett said that “most” people in Steinhatchee evacuated ahead of the storm. “We had a few that did not, but so far everybody’s safe,” said Padgett, who also urged people to “stay home” as power lines and trees were being removed from roads.

Heavy damage to some buildings was evident. The storm knocked over a canopy of a gas station operated by Ware Oil and Supply Co.

“Most everybody here, company-wise, evacuated. As a matter of fact, my county manager was just rolling back into town from evacuation. They don’t know what their house looks like, they haven't been there yet,” Tallahassee resident Doug Everett, an owner of the company, told The News Service of Florida outside the station. “Nobody died, that’s the key.”

Everett echoed state officials’ sentiments that recovery would be a long road.

“In the last 40 years, this is probably hurricane No. 4 for me. And, when you start fixing stuff like this, it’s quite an undertaking,” he said.

Jim Rosica contributed. This News Service of Florida story is being provided for free to City & State Florida readers. For the most comprehensive and in-depth political and policy news, consider a subscription, beginning with a 10-day free trial. Click here to sign up!

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