As the scope of devastation from Topical Storm Debby becomes apparent, Clay County has asked the American Red Cross to open a long-term shelter for people whose homes may not be habitable for quite some time.
Tynes Elementary School on Tynes Boulevard in Middleburg opened Wednesday morning for residents from flood-affected areas.
"We'll have comfort kits, you know, if they had to leave without their toothbrush," said shelter manager Georgia Dahl. "Plenty of food and water and cots and blankets, so this place is a lot about having a temporary home."
The shelter opens for those who initially though they could make it through without relying on others.
"I think people initially said, you know, 'I can stick this out,' but as the hot weather took place over the past couple of days, as they work to remove the debris from their home, there’s pretty much that rationalization as to, 'Boy, I can no longer stay," said Clay County Fire Chief Lorin Mock.
Emergency management officials continue assessing damage and Clay County was added to the federal major emergency declaration on Wednesday, which will allow affected residents and businesses to qualify for disaster aid.
Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives are expected to begin going door-to-door in affected neighborhoods of Clay County on Thursday.
"We will work with FEMA to open a disaster recovery center in the Middleburg area so that (residents) can go in and sit down directly with the representatives," Mock said.
A preliminary damage assessment completed over the weekend reported $4 million in damages and associated costs in Clay County, and that number was expected to rise.
Clay County said 579 residences were damaged by Tropical Storm Debby's floodwaters. Of those, nearly 100 homes received major damage or were considered destroyed.
Anyone who has not reported damage to Clay County emergency management officials are asked to call 904-284-7703.
The only remaining closure in Clay is County Road 218W at Country Estates, where the road washed away during the flood. Fire and emergency medical services personnel will be staged at both sides of the collapse until the road can reopen.
Hundreds of Clay County residents are spending the holiday week getting rid of things ruined by in the storm, fixing pipes and shoveling mud. Debris pickup begins on Friday.
Storm-related debris should not be containerized or bagged and should be placed at least 10 feet apart from cans or bags of household garbage. There must be separate piles for construction-type debris, woody or vegetative debris and appliances.
Daryl Clevenger of Journey Church, the group preparing a holiday dinner Wednesday at the Red Cross shelter, said it's appropriate to be spending the 4th of July this way.
"I really believe that the real spirit of 4th of July is about going out and helping each other," Clevenger said. "It’s not just going out and watching the fireworks, and today’s an opportunity for us to show the spirit of America and what we’re all about."