CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – The Clay County Emergency Operations Center returned to level 3 activation status, and began the process of demobilizing staff who worked overnight in response to Hurricane Hermine.
The three shelters that housed 18 people and two pets have been closed, officials said.
At least two areas of Clay County received confirmed tropical storm level wind speeds Friday morning – 51 mph in Orange Park and 45 mph in Maxville/Clay Hill.
Off Smallwood Road in the San Souci area, a huge oak tree knocked out power nearly all day on Friday. JEA crews were unable to restore power right away because tree trimmers had to remove the tree limbs that were sitting on power lines.
No one was hurt.
Homeowner Justin Martin said he moved his truck Thursday evening before the severe weather hit. He said if he hadn't, the truck would have been parked directly under the tree that fell.
"I had another tree I took down a couple of years ago because it was rotten. I've had JEA out here a couple of times just to look at it, make sure it's healthy. Both times they said it's great, it's a beautiful tree, it looks great. I guess this was just it's year, it's time," Martin said.
Martin said he will have a plethora of large fire logs up for grabs for anyone who wants it. Martin cranked up his generator after the power went out. He said people can never be too prepared.
"You got to stay prepared. My power is out. You never know," Martin said. "It will hopefully be back on tonight. But it could have been out for days, weeks, without power. Or it could have fallen on my house. (The) biggest thing (is) be prepared. We've got a generator, spare water, food, a backup plan. You always got to have that ready to go."
Martin said he'll be spending much of the weekend getting his yard cleaned up.
All curbside garbage collection scheduled for Friday was suspended. Garbage normally collected on Friday will be collected Saturday.
Schools closed Friday
Clay County district schools remain closed Friday.
School administrators made the decision because the highest risk from winds and possible tornadoes would be in the morning when students would be in transit or arriving at school.
The district canceled after-school activities, including athletic events, for Friday so parents and students could stay off the road in case there is flooding or debris after the storm passes.
The canceled activities include the YMCA of Florida's First Coast PrYmeTime program.
Clay County district spokeswoman Lauren Bankert said parents in Clay County will be kept informed through ParentLink phone calls, the OneClay app, Facebook and media advisories if there are changes to dismissal procedures on Thursday.
Other school closures in the county:
- Clay Charter Academy
- Lighthouse Christian Academy -- all eight locations in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties -- will be closed Friday.
- St. Johns Country Day School will be closed Friday
- Goddard School closed Friday
All Clay County government offices were also closed Friday.
YMCA branches, including the Barco-Newton Family YMCA in Fleming Island and the Dye Clay Family YMCA in Orange Park, will not open until 1 p.m. Friday. All YMCA before and after-school programs are canceled Friday.
For more information, please visit FirstCoastYMCA.org.
Clay Electric on alert
As of 5 p.m. Saturday, Clay Electric announced that 6,753 members of Clay Electric Cooperative remain without power. That number is down from the 13,000 Saturday morning.
At the peak of the storm 43,000 customers were without power. Inclement weather Friday night, and two auto accidents, created additional outages in Columbia and Union counties Saturday.
All outside crews and available Clay Electric construction personnel are working in the Gainesville and Lake City districts -- Alachua, Baker, Columbia, Gilchrist, Levy, Marion, Suwannee and Union counties)
Southern Columbia and Northern Alachua have the most damage and the most members still without of power.
All crews will remain in the Gainesville and Lake City districts until all services are restored. Power crews are still working but Clay Electric said they cannot guarantee power will be restored tonight.
Clay County Amateur Radio Emergency Service ready to help
The Clay County Amateur Radio Service activated at 4 p.m. Thursday and had stations operating from the Clay County EOC, as well as shelters in Clay County, in response to Hurricane Hermine.
Joe Bassett started doing amateur radio, also known as ham radio, from his Clay County home years ago when Somer Thompson disappeared.
Bassett helped in the search effort for the little girl who authorities said was kidnapped and killed in Orange Park. Bassett said he utilized amateur radio to help with the search.
"Some of us just enjoy the hobby. Then we enjoy the challenge of being able to provide those communications when needed," Bassett said.
The ham radio is battery powered and Bassett can hook it up to a generator if need be. He said the Federal Communications Commission grants ham radio operators licenses and frequencies for free as long as they agree to help emergency operations if there's ever an event where power or communication is lost.
"It provides emergency communications for municipalities and agencies, like I said, emergency operations center, Salvation Army, Red Cross. If all other forms of communication fail, then they can rely on us," Bassett said.
Bassett is part of the Clay County group of about 74 ham radio operators. He said every county in Northeast Florida has some sort of group that operates the same way.
"When all else fails, amateur radio is usually the fallback position. In stories, such as Katrina and Sandy, amateur radio operators were still needed. There were infrastructures that failed at the time, cell towers, communications," Bassett said.