Florida breathes easier after escaping brunt of Hurricane Dorian
'We dodged a big one here'
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Emergency operations slowly started to wind down Wednesday as Hurricane Dorian remained offshore, inching its way north and away from Florida.
Airports started to reopen. Toll collections were ready to be reinstated, starting in South Florida.
National attention had already shifted to whether Dorian would cause damage in the Carolinas and to the devastation the monstrous storm inflicted on the Bahamas.
In Florida, Dorian caused at least 150,000 power outages as it continued to drop rain and cause some storm surges in the northeast part of the state.
But there hadn't been the destruction or flooding feared when earlier forecasts showed the storm making landfall and possibly crossing Florida.
Jared Moskowitz, director of the state Division of Emergency Management, said Wednesday afternoon that this "was the best-case scenario for the state of Florida."
"Right now, I think we're seeing a lot of beach erosion," Moskowitz said. "Obviously, some of the houses that are on the beach, some of them are getting some erosion under their structure, but that's very minimal."
Even hurricane-force winds remained offshore as Dorian finally made its long-awaited northern journey.
"Florida has only by the grace of God dodged a Category 5 storm that ultimately could have cost us lots of lives and lots of resources," state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said.
Florida Power & Light, the state's largest electric utility, reported handling more than 150,000 outages, with no more than 11,000 at any given time, and said the average repair took "just over an hour."
"Most of the outages have been the result of trees falling on equipment and other vegetation blowing into the power lines," the company reported.
JEA, the municipal utility in Jacksonville, reported a couple of hundred outages as of Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Duke Energy Florida announced it no longer needed the 4,300 workers from other states that were staged in Florida to provide assistance. Duke said its 2,200 crew members and contractors were adequate for Dorian outages that may still occur.
"Workers from Duke Energy's Midwest contingent today will travel to the Carolinas to assist with power restoration after the hurricane's anticipated impact to those states," the company said.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said the state's farmers and ranchers are breathing "a sigh of relief that this one didn't hit us."
"Everybody seems to have managed to have little to no damage," Fried said. "We dodged a big one here."
Hurricane Irma in 2017 inflicted an estimated $2.5 billion in agricultural damage, mostly to the citrus industry. Hurricane Michael last year destroyed an estimated $1.49 billion worth of agriculture, mostly in the timber industry.
Tolls collections -- which Gov. Ron DeSantis started suspending Sunday to help ease Dorian evacuations -- will return Thursday in South Florida on Alligator Alley, the Homestead Extension of Florida's Turnpike, and the Interstate 95, Interstate 595 and Interstate 75 express lanes.
Tolls on the main portion of Florida's Turnpike, along with toll roads around Orlando will resume Friday. Tolls will again be collected on the First Coast Expressway and the Interstate 295 express lanes in the Jacksonville area on Saturday.
No estimate has been announced on the amount of lost revenue from lifting tolls during the Labor Day holiday weekend. When tolls were suspended for Hurricane Irma in 2017, the turnpike system estimated a $3 million-a-day impact.
Palm Beach International Airport resumed normal operations Wednesday morning with the first flight out at 8:59 a.m.
Orlando International Airport reopened at noon Wednesday, shortly before Orlando Melbourne International resumed operations, with the airfield available for emergency relief efforts and general aviation. The terminal at Orlando Melbourne is slated to reopen Thursday morning for commercial fights.
The South Florida Water Management District plans to reopen navigation locks for boaters going to and from Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River and Upper Kissimmee Chain of Lakes on Thursday morning.
Patronis said while the insurance and reinsurance market would have been able to absorb a hit from Dorian, he wants his office to reexamine the industry.
"I want to do my own deep dive in the coming weeks, examining every possible outrageous scenario to understand if there is something that makes us vulnerable to a storm of this nature with our fiscal health," Patronis said. "We're in good shape right now, but I want to make sure we have the best immune system possible."
The state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee was cutting back staffing by 25 percent Wednesday night and making plans to ramp down most other operations. It was waiting for the storm, more than 115 miles east of Jacksonville on Wednesday afternoon, to fully clear the state.
Moskowitz, a former state lawmaker facing his first massive storm as director, said the agency wouldn't let its guard down yet and that no one should consider Dorian an exercise, as what happened in the Bahamas could have occurred across Florida.
"Look, they took the hit for us, that's the way I look at it," Moskowitz said.
Florida lawmakers and farmers have quickly started to coordinate efforts to assist people in the Bahamas, Fried said.
"A lot of the ag producers out there are so grateful that we didn't have a straight-on hit, that they're starting to coordinate as well through us some of the products we might be able to send down to the Bahamas," Fried said.
Fried said she's also reached out to Michael Pintard, the Bahamas' minister for agriculture, who released a video of being trapped while his house was surrounded by a 20-foot-high surge of water.
News Service of Florida