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North central Florida counties begin cleanup

Schools closed Friday in Alachua, Bradford, Columbia, Union counties

Tree down in Alachua County
Tree down in Alachua County

BRADFORD COUNTY, Fla. – Alachua, Bradford, Columbia and Union counties are focused on cleaning up the aftermath of Hurricane Hermine, and getting back to normal as the storm makes its way up the east coast.

Area counties are still feeling the effects of Hermine, but cleanup had already begun. From Public Works to Florida Power and Light to local families, it was a community effort.

George Jackson was home with his wife when a branch from the tree in his front yard hit the ground several yards from his home.

"We got real lucky,” Jackson said. "We looked out the window and saw it. Fortunately we saw the car."

At a briefing this afternoon, local leaders and law enforcement reflected on the last 24 hours.

“As of 6 p.m. last night, we've received 232 calls,” Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter said. “Twenty Four of those were downed wire calls, 49 of those were obstruction calls. The rest were general service calls.”

“We're very fortunate,” he added. “We pretty much got a pass, as everyone knows.”

Columbia County Emergency Management director Shayne Morgan was pleased by the coordinated efforts.

"I pride myself each and every day working with these groups, and getting better and better with the communication," Morgan said.

Alachua County power outages

Alachua County officials say that they have not identified any injuries directly related to the storm. Emergency Management officials attribute that to residents taking appropriate precautions before and during the storm. 

A total of 37 trees were reported down in Gainesville, some blocking roadways. Many of the trees have already been cleared, officials said. Some of the downed trees were entangled with power lines. Great River Energy personnel are working with Public Works to clear the power lines as soon as possible.

According to GRU, 16,362 customers suffered power outages.

Gainesville officials reported 45 traffic signals were out at the peak of the storm. Crews are working to restore power to those signals. 

The Special Needs Shelter, located at the Gainesville/Alachua County Senior Center at 5701 N.W. 34th Blvd, remains open. The shelter is for those with special needs, such as oxygen dependency and electricity dependency (to power life-sustaining machines). Those in need of transportation assistance can call 352-955-2577.

The Alachua County Emergency Operations Center closed just after 12:30 p.m. Friday. 

Downed trees, power outages in Columbia County 

Emergency management officials reported 2.5 to 4 inches of rain over the last 24-32 hours.

As of 10 a.m., there were 7,000 power outages in the county.

“As of 6 p.m. last night, we've received 232 calls. Twenty four of those were downed wire calls, 49 of those were obstruction calls. The rest were general service calls,” Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter said. “We're very fortunate. We pretty much got a pass, as everyone knows.”

There were only two reports of downed trees on houses, Hunter said.

Columbia County had no reported injuries as a result of the storm.

Schools closed as precaution 

Alachua, Bradford, Columbia and Union counties announced Thursday that all schools will be closed in the counties on Friday.

Alachua County has also canceled all after-school activities for Friday.

P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School will also be closed Friday.

The Columbia County School District said there will be no after-school or evening events on Friday, and school will resume Tuesday.

The Bradford County Courthouse will be closed Friday as well.

As officials continue to monitor the weather, they will update parents and students via email, automated phone messages, social media and local radio.

Alachua County residents can sign up for emergency alerts for #MyACSO on Nixle by texting their ZIP Code to 888777 from a mobile phone.

Other Friday school closures in the counties include:

  • Hope Christian Academy in Starke
  • Bradford Christian Academy

The Lake City and Gainesville VA outpatient clinics delayed appointments and lab draws until noon Friday.

Columbia County Emergency Management responds to Hermine

Columbia County Emergency Management initiated a level 2 partial emergency activation at 6 p.m. Thursday.

All non-essential Columbia County government offices and non-essential Lake City government offices are closed Friday and will reopen Tuesday. 

“Emergency Services remained in operation during this time, but non-critical offices closed to allow our employees to see to the safety of their families and homes,” said Lake City Manager Wendell Johnson.

Columbia County garbage pickup is scheduled to take place Friday.

Sand bag distributions began at 6 a.m. at 607 N.W. Quinten St. Each individual was allowed 25 bags.

One emergency shelter has opened at Olivet Missionary Baptist Church at 541 N.E. Davis Avenue. For more information, call 386-752-1990.

City departments prepared for the worst, just in case. Additional staffing was on standby at both the Lake City Police and Fire Departments, and Public Works crews were on standby to quickly clear traffic flow in case of traffic signal outages or downed trees / power lines.

Anyone who observes a tree down or standing water in the road are urged not to try to drive through, but rather to find an alternate route and call 911 to report the hazard. No one should approach a downed cable or line under any circumstance. Traffic signal outages or other non-emergency police matters can still be reported to the Lake City Public Safety Communications Center at 386-752-4343.

Anyone with questions or concerns specific to the tropical threat should contact the Columbia County Citizens Information Center / Weather Hotline at 386-719-5860.

Dealing with power outages

As weather patterns in the area began to clear, city officials decided to deactivate the Emergency Operations 

Center at 8 a.m. Friday morning. Emergency services will continue, and city manager Wendell Johnson urged anyone who sees anything unsafe to call 911 to report it.

 

“Even though the storm is passed, as people wake up they may find a tree down blocking their road, or a power line down in their yard. The Police and Fire Departments have extra staffing today to address these calls,” Johnson said.

Lake City officials said their greatest concern in their area was not so much flooding as high winds.

“The most important thing people can do to prepare for high winds is to remove objects or debris from their yard,” said Johnson. “As wind gusts begin to hit the area, they can turn lawn ornaments into dangerous projectiles.”

Fire Chief Frank Armijo, the City’s Incident Commander, suggested making sure generators are topped off and in good working order.

“Improper generator use can be dangerous and often causes more injuries than an actual power outage,” said Armjio. He urged those using a generator to follow some basic tips:

Never wire a portable generator directly into your home’s wiring. This can cause it to backfeed into the power lines which could damage nearby transformers and even your neighbor’s homes.

  • Never plug a portable generator into a regular household outlet. Generators are not powerful enough to power an entire home. Only connect essential equipment, and connect it directly to the generator.
  • Do not use your generator indoors or in your garage. Generators use an internal combustion engine which emits deadly carbon monoxide and should only be used outside in well-ventilated areas away from your homes intakes. An ideal spot would be under a canopy or in an open shed.
  • Do not refuel your generator while it is running. Turn it off and wait until it has cooled down.

Anyone with questions or concerns related to Hermine should call the Lake City’s Citizens Information Center / Emergency Operations Center Hotline at 386-719-5860. Emergencies should still be reported by calling 911.

Remove standing water

Epidemiologists and emergency managers reminded residents to quickly remove any standing water after rainfall.

With the Zika virus already in Florida, scientists said getting rid of potential mosquito breeding grounds will help prevent the spread of the insects.

Florida State University epidemiologist Chris Uejio said that even though all mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water, those that cause Zika are especially fond of man-made containers.

“Literally containers that we have made, like plastic jugs, tires, flower pot saucers -- they will home in on those, partly because they are close to the types of people they like to bite, but they are also great habitats," Uejio said.