Columbia County emergency management officials say they've changed their approach to the challenges created by this week's storm and are becoming more proactive and less reactive to the damages created by the historical amount of flooding in the area.
Officials say residents need to stay hydrated because of what's expected to be record-high heat in the area over the next few days, with temperatures approaching 100 degrees and the humidity making it feel like 110 degrees.
Residents focused on the impending flooding at Fort White, White Springs or their individual homes, should stay hydrated, officials said, because heat stroke is a real threat and a serious health risk.
As for the flooding, officials said it appears the Suwannee River at White Springs has crested. The measurement on Thursday was 85.22 feet and was recorded Friday at 84.76 feet, with the flood stage at 77 feet. The river is predicted to fall back under flood stage on Wednesday.
The worst flooding is still ahead for the areas in southern Columbia County in the vicinity of the Santa Fe River. At Fort White, the river level is 29.51 feet and is expected to crest on Saturday at 32.08 feet, with a flood stage of 24 feet. No date has been identified for when the river might fall back down below flood levels.
At Three River Estates, the level was 16.31 feet Friday morning, with flood stage at 19 feet. The river is expected to crest at Three Rivers on Monday or Tuesday at 24.9 feet.
Public works crews are continuing around-the-clock efforts to reopen roads damaged by flooding. On Thursday afternoon, the count was about 98 such closures. Roads are being reopened as repairs are made. Some repairs are happening fairly quickly, officials said, and others will need flood waters to recede before damages can be determined and repairs made.
There are at least two bridges closed in the county, and most box culverts remain to be inspected until flood waters end. Damage assessment teams are continuing to identify and document damage to structures. This work will significantly assist in identifying the level of damages in the county and to provide that information to representatives of FEMA when they review the merits of declaring a Disaster Declaration for the area and the rest of the counties affected by the storm in Florida. Local officials hope that designation is made sometime next week.
A shelter remains open at Richardson Middle School, which is located at 646 S.E. Pennsylvania St. in Lake City. The Citizen's Information Center remains open and is expected to do so throughout the weekend and into next week. The contact number is 386-719-7530.
The Winfield Landfill is open and available for all non-hazardous materials. Residents can call the landfill at 386-752-6050. Sandbags are also available at the Public Works Department, and an aggressive mosquito abatement program is being established for the county to combat one of the many challenges created by the flooding and ponding water.
The county parks located at Rum Island, Alligator Lake and Falling Creek are closed and will remain so until the flooding subsides. Columbia County Senior Services continues to monitor residents served by that agency. The phone number is 386-752-0235 or 386-752-5655 after hours and on the weekend. Information is available on their web site at ccseniors.com.
Health Department issues continue to concentrate on potential well contamination and safe water issues. Residents whose well has been covered at any time by flood waters are urged to either use bottled water or boil the water they use at home. Bring the water to a boil and let it roll for at least one minute. The Health Department can do testing on well water to determine if it is safe to use. Other questions can be answered by calling the agency 386-758-1058.
Columbia County officials created a new Facebook page Friday to provide additional information on recovery efforts. The Facebook page is named "Columbia County Flood Relief."
Additional information is available on the Columbia County website, ColumbiaCountyFLA.com, or on the Emergency Management site, ColumbiaCountyEM.com. That site includes a directory of departments involved in the recovery efforts, its phone number and a brief explanation of services provided by the agency.
The Columbia County Sheriff's Office, assisted by officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Conservation Commission, Florida Agriculture Commission and Florida Highway Patrol, are actively patrolling the county with a particular emphasis on areas affected by the flooding. The agencies are also actively assisting residents attempting to evacuate from flooded areas.