Northeast Florida braces as Hurricane Michael moves inland

Baker, Bradford, Columbia counties under state of emergency issued by governor

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Corley Peel - Reporter, Alicia Booth - Reporter/anchor, Erik Avanier - Reporter, Jennifer Ready - Reporter, Ashley Harding - Reporter, Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

Hurricane Michael at 4 p.m. Wednesday

Ahead of Hurricane Michael, Gov. Rick Scott on Monday expanded a state of emergency to include 35 counties, from the Panhandle to as far east as Columbia and Baker counties. 

Emergency operation centers in Northeast Florida spent the beginning of the week preparing for the storm, which slammed into the Florida Panhandle with winds of 155 mph Wednesday. 

Scott on Sunday issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in 26 counties in Northwest Florida, the Big Bend region and North Central Florida. That declaration stretched from Escambia County in the western end of the Panhandle to Columbia County in North Central Florida and Levy County along the Gulf Coast. The expansion Monday added Bradford, Pasco, Hernando, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Alachua, Union and Baker counties.

TRACKING MICHAEL: Hurricane slams into Florida as strong Cat 4 storm
POWER OUT: Florida and county-by-county outages

The storm is expected to bring power outages, storm surge, rains, flash flooding and tornadoes.

Baker County

Emergency officials in Baker County continued to monitor Hurricane Michael as the storm moved inland Wednesday. 

School closures

In Baker County, officials decided Tuesday to close public schools Wednesday and Thursday. Classes are expected to resume Friday at regularly scheduled times. The Baker County School District had already postponed homecoming events, probably until next week.

Shelters

Macclenny Elementary opened as a general population shelter at 6 p.m. Tuesday. There was also a special-needs shelter open at the Ed Fraser Memorial Hospital. 

Both shelters closed at 7 p.m. Wednesday due to the decreased threat of Michael, according the Baker County Sheriff's Office.

All Baker County offices will be closed Wednesday and Thursday. City of Macclenny offices will also be closed Wednesday and Thursday. City garbage pickup for Wednesday will be pushed to Thursday, and the Thursday collection will be pushed to Friday.

Sandbags

Sandbags are available at the City of Macclenny Yard, located on Hartline Drive behind the Baker County Health Department. The limit is six sandbags per person.

Preparations

Capt. Chris Volz, head of the Baker County Emergency Operations Center, said the EOC prepared for the worst, and asked for Baker County residents to do the same. 

"Make sure you have plenty of food, water and medications up-to-date," he said. "Just being vigilant, making sure you can check your house for any loose debris, tree limbs, garbage -- anything that could become airborne. Make sure your property is safe. Make sure your home is safe."

Volz said residents should have enough water and medication for three days in case the power goes out. 

"Stay safe. Watch and see what’s going on. We don’t want you to think this is going to be a light storm that’s going to blow through and nothing’s going to happen in Baker County," Volz said. "I do anticipate some significant wind. We do anticipate heavy rains." 

At Ace Hardware, people were making last-minute trips Tuesday to get ready for the storm. 

"We got stocked up on food, got generators," Dustin Flick said. "We got water, of course."

Main concerns

Heavy winds and the possibility of tornadoes are big concerns, Baker County officials said Thursday.

Although flooding is now less of a concern, those living in low-lying areas are warned to be careful.

One concern is that the St. Marys River is expected to crest Friday at 13 feet. The county is keeping a close eye on the water level and normally flood-prone areas like Steel Bridge Road, Lil Dixie Drive, Webb Haven Road, Confederate Drive and Turkey Creek.

Some families along the river said flooding has been a problem before, and they are not sure what will happen with Michael. 

"It is pretty low right now," said Joshua Wilkerson, who lives along the river." Last time it flooded, (the water) came over the rim, probably 5 feet from coming over right here on this road."

Volz said Wednesday that significant flooding is not expected until rainfall is more than anticipated, but some residents will be inconvenienced and some roads are likely to be impacted.

Emergency management said even four inches of rain can impact people who live in low-lying spots. 

Trinity Rivest, who lives in Glen St. Mary, has dealt with that before. 

"We're right by the St. Marys River," Rivest said. "When it floods out that area, our road kind of goes under. So, we just want to be prepared."

Any residents with questions or concerns as Michael approaches can call Emergency Management staff at 904-259-6111. All residents are encouraged to sign up for emergency alerts at bakerso.com/alert_baker/. For more tips and information, go to floridadisaster.org.

Columbia County

Hundreds of crews were stationed in Lake City, waiting to deploy to areas impacted by the storm Wednesday. Maintenex, a commercial maintenance company out of Tampa, had trucks loaded with generators. There were also boats from the Florida Department of Transportation, tree surgeons and power companies.

Jason Moss was among 30 workers with C&C Power Line out of Jacksonville who were preparing to work 16-hour days to help Duke Energy restore power after Michael.

"It's going to be chaotic to say the least," Moss said. "Not only do you deal with the power, then you have to deal with all the customers. After 10 days to weeks without power, people usually get pretty touchy. it’s a stressful situation."

People who showed up Wednesday to the Lake City Walmart found it closed, with a sign on the door saying it will re-open Thursday. The carts in the parking lot were wrapped with plastic in hopes of keeping tas stable as possible.

Most hotels were booked with guests who had evacuated.

WATCH: Lake City hotels filled with hurricane evacuees

News4Jax met a family of six -- plus three dogs, a fish, a ferret and a Guinea pig -- while they were taking a break at the Busy Bee off Interstate 10. David Hyde said they were heading east after they decided Wednesday morning to evacuate from Tallahassee.

"Last night, I thought well we’d ride it out," Hyde said. "But this morning, when it looked like, for at least (a bit like it was) maybe (going to be) a (Category) 5, we decided it was time to get out."

School closures

Due to Hurricane Michael, all Columbia County schools will be closed Wednesday and Thursday.

Schools will reopen on Friday and all activities will resume as normal.  

"The worst part of Hurricane Michael will be from noon Wednesday to noon Thursday," the Columbia County School District said Tuesday. "We remain in contact with county Emergency Management and do not feel it is safe to transport students in these conditions"

News4Jax was told that Cambridge Prep Academy, a private school in Lake City, will be closed Wednesday and Thursday during Michael.

Other closures

County offices will be closed Wednesday and will reopen Thursday. Officials said trash collection will run on normal schedule, but noted that if conditions deteriorate and become a safety concern, service could be altered.

All courts in Columbia County will be closed Wednesday and Thursday and only essential city and county employees need to report to work Wednesday. The Columbia County Tax Collector's office will be closed Wednesday and Thursday.

WATCH: Emergency responders in Columbia County preparing for Michael

On Tuesday, it was all hands on deck at the Columbia County Emergency Operations Center, where officials mobilized to plan their defense against the hurricane, continued to monitor Michael as it moved north and recommended that residents prepare an emergency supply kit for the storm. 

Wind, tornado concerns 

Officials said their biggest concern is wind, as Columbia County has a lot of mobile and manufactured homes. Officials said they're also concerned about trees being knocked down along the interstates. 

Based on the present storm model, Columbia County is forecasted to experience wind speeds between 30 mph and 50 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph.  Additionally, with the increased wind speeds, Columbia County has an elevated tornadic activity threat. Rainfall projections for the area are estimated at 2½ inches, with some local areas seeing slightly more. Hurricane Michael is expected to arrive in Columbia County Wednesday afternoon and weather conditions are anticipated to subside between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. Thursday.

"I'm a little worried," said Lake City resident Jennifer Stollerman. "But I don't want want to worry too much because everyone is freaking out and I just want to stay calm."

Some Columbia County residents said they're concerned about rain. Tristan Russell said his house and others in the Five points area flood a lot, which is why he's not taking any chances. 

"We're just going to keep sandbags around the doors, keep all the water from coming in," Russell said. 

In the past, Columbia County has experienced flooding from tropical storms and hurricanes in the Gulf. 

"We are looking at the forecast right now for our county. We’re looking at 4 to 5 inches of rain. It just depends on what area the heaviest part of the rain falls," Shayne Morgan, director of the Columbia County Emergency Operation Center, told News4Jax on Monday. "(If it's) the low-lying area (with) poor drainage, then, yeah, flooding might be an issue."

Sandbag distribution

Sandbags will be distributed beginning at 7 a.m. Wednesday at the Public Works building at 607 NW Quinten St. in Lake City. The limit is 15 bags per vehicle.

Shelters

Three shelters opened at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the following locations:

South Columbia Ft. White Community Center
17579 SW State Road 47 
Fort White, FL 32038

Westside Community Center
431 SW Birley Ave 
Lake City, FL 32024

Winfield Community Center & Recreation Area
1324 NW Winfield St. 
Lake City, FL 32055

Please note shelters provide shelter only. Evacuees are urged to bring their hurricane supply kit.

Columbia County Citizen Information (CIC) line opened at noon Tuesday. Call 386-719-7530 for information. If you are experiencing an emergency, call 911.

Follow the Columbia County Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ColumbiaCountyEOC/ and our website at www.columbiacountyem.com.  

Utility crews ready to respond

Also on Tuesday, 300 trucks and more than 1,3000 people working for Florida Power and Light gathered at the Columbia County Fairgrounds in Lake City so they can be ready to go wherever the power goes out. 

"I feel very secure. They do a really good job," Lake City resident Jenny Kampley said. "Power gets up here really quick."

An FPL spokesperson said the biggest threat to power loss will be high winds and possibly tornadoes in the hurricane’s outer bands that are expected to extend to Columbia County. 

As power crews stood by for deployment ahead of the storm, Columbia County residents prepared by stocking up on extra water and other items they may need if the power goes out. 

"My wife came into the store earlier and got a few things," Lake City resident Wayne Hines told News4Jax after coming out of Publix. "I'm just picking up where she left off ... (getting) extra water."

FPL said its expecting nearly 125,000 customers, including those in Columbia, Nassau and Suwannee counties. The utility said resources will be moved to wherever they are needed.

Bradford County

The Bradford County Sheriff’s Office said officials were following the latest updates on Michael.

School closures

Bradford County Superintendent Stacey Shuford Creighton said she decided to cancel school Wednesday and Thursday due to the unpredictable path of Hurricane Michael and the fact that the governor has included Bradford County in the list of impacted counties in his emergency order.  

Sandbag distribution

Sandbags will be distributed at the Emergency Management Maintenance Yard at 810 N. Grand St. in Starke until 6 p.m. Tuesday and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Up to 12 sandbags per vehicle will be distributed as long as supplies last.

On Tuesday, the Sheriff's Office said, roughly 4,800 sandbags had been made and more than 1,300 had been distributed.

Sharon Brooks said sandbags saved her house from flooding during Hurricane Irma, and she hopes they will do the same thing if Hurricane Michael brings strong winds and rainfall. 

"I really need them. And, like I told the gentlemen, as many as I can get," Brooks said. "I have some low rooms, so if the water starts building up, it's going to try and come in the house."

Brooks said she's preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best. 

"I’m hoping its just a light cool breeze," she said. "I don’t need no flooding, just a little bit of rain.”

Union County

All public schools in the county will be closed Wednesday and Thursday. Students were already going to be out of school Friday for a teacher planning day. District officials said make-up days are built into the school calendar.

The Union County Sheriff’s Office and the agency's Office of Emergency Management are monitoring the current path and possible effects of Michael.

Alachua County

Alachua County Public Schools plan to remain open on Wednesday The school district will continue to monitor the storm and consult with county officials.

Based on the most current information from emergency management and weather officials regarding Hurricane Michael, administrators have determined the University of Florida in Gainesville will remain open and all classes, events and clinical activities will continue on a normal operating schedule.

Santa Fe College will close its campus at 3:30 p.m. and will reopen at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Clay County

Clay County District Schools and Offices will be open Wednesday. However, all after school activities will be canceled Wednesday, except for YMCA’s After School Program. 

For updates, visit oneclay.net.

St. Johns County

In the historic city of St. Augustine in St. Johns County, officials warned of potential flooding downtown.

Despite Hurricane Michael approaching Florida from the Gulf Coast side, the system came onshore around the same time the king tide, an astronomical event, making St. Augustine more vulnerable to flooding. 

"We're cleaning all of the storm drains," Michael Cullum, director of St. Augustine's Public Works Department, told News4Jax on Monday. "We’re making sure that any debris that is on the street is removed prior to the storm so that the water can actually get out of the system as soon as the king tide recedes.” 

The city of St. Augustine has created an online form to report street flooding. The public is encouraged to keep an eye out and assist Public Works crews by using the Report Flooding form to alert the city to problem areas. The form is available by clicking on the How Can I? menu at the top of the city’s website at www.CityStAug.com.

For additional information or to submit flooding reports by phone, contact the Public Works Department at 904-825-1040, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.  At other times, call 904-825-1040 and select Option 2.

St. Johns County Emergency Management said that it is monitoring Michael and participating in conference calls with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, National Weather Service Jacksonville and National Hurricane Center to get the most up-to-date information.

Beach driving is restricted on all St. Johns County beaches and could remain so through Thursday, officials announced.

The county is expected to experience tropical storm force winds gusts and rainfall of 1-2 inches.

Residents are encouraged to secure outdoor furniture and other loose items, and to continue monitoring local media for up-to-date information regarding the storm. For additional hurricane preparedness information, as well as continued updates on Hurricane Michael’s impact to St. Johns County, please visit www.sjcemergencymanagement.com, or call the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center at 904-824-5550.

St. Johns County Parks and Recreation has canceled all activities at County Parks and Community
Centers for Wednesday evening due to inclement weather.

Beach driving is restricted on all St. Johns County beaches due to abnormally high tides and
elevated surf related to Hurricane Michael.

Beach Services and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office will reinstate beach driving as soon as conditions safely allow. You can download the St. Johns County Reach the Beach mobile app for daily beach driving updates, or follow St. Johns County Beaches on Facebook (www.facebook.com/SJCBeaches) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/SJCBeaches).

PRINT: Checklist of hurricane supplies | 2018 Hurricane Survival Guide

Jacksonville

High tides are also a concern in Jacksonville Beach, where the city on Monday was taking steps to minimize possible flooding by making sure holding tanks for water underground were clear of debris.

The extraordinary high tides are expected Tuesday. But rough surf and strong winds were a concern for lifeguards who said beachgoers were still in the water despite the fact that there were few lifeguards on hand.

"The rough, pounding surf is going to be overwhelming for most people's swimming ability," said Rob Emahiser, with Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue. 

The same tides will also have an effect along the St. Johns River, where Jacksonville's historic San Marco and Riverside neighborhoods saw major flooding last year during Hurricane Irma. 

WATCH: Northeast Florida counties monitoring Michael

At a news conference downtown Monday afternoon, Mayor Lenny Curry said he's been in regular communication with the governor, and emergency operation officials are monitoring the storm, though Michael is not expected to drastically affect Jacksonville. 

"As a city, we are closely monitoring the storm, working with all city agencies and departments to make sure that we are prepared in the event the forecast changes," Curry said. "There's no reason to do a mad dash right now. We're not under a watch or warning. It's weather. It can change. Just be prepared."

The mayor said public works officials were working to clear storm drains and ditches to prevent any potential flooding.

VIEW: City of Jacksonville Emergency Preparedness Guide 

Greg Conger, who owns property on the Southside along the river, said he's not sure what to expect. 

"It is a problem. One of the problems is just getting in and out of here with a vehicle," Conger told News4Jax on Monday. "Luckily, my units are raised off the ground. I missed getting flooded -- I had an inch last year."

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said it's also monitoring the storm and encouraged resident to be prepared.

On Monday, JEA crews trimmed trees that were closed to power lines in neighborhoods off of Starratt Road near Yellow Bluff Road, San Juan Avenue just west of Roosevelt Boulevard and Royal Lakes Drive just south of Baymeadows Road.

Duval County Public Schools School will be open Wednesday. However, all after-school activities, with the exception of Extended Day, are canceled. Any additional updates will be posted on the district’s website at www.duvalschools.org.

Florida State College at Jacksonville closed all campuses at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

St. Leo University will close its Jacksonville and Mayport locations at 2 p.m. Wednesday. All FSCJ campuses and centers will be operating as scheduled Thursday.

Due to the weather, Edward Waters College closed at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and canceled all evening classes. EWC will resume normal business hours Thursday.

Flagler County

Impacts to Flagler County will likely be minimal -- windy, rainy weather for the next couple of days. Residents are asked to be alert for old social media posts from two years ago when Flagler County was dealing with the after-effects Hurricane Matthew. 

“We've been made aware that there are some old posts and tweets being re-circulated from Hurricane Matthew in 2016,” said Emergency Management Chief Jonathan Lord. “Please make sure the news you are following is current and from a trusted source like the National Hurricane Center, the National Weather Service, and Flagler County Emergency Services.”

Current bulletins from the National Weather Service for Flagler County include a high risk for rip currents, a high surf advisory, and a coastal flood advisory. The risk of tropical storm force winds has decreased to 20 percent. 

Residents and businesses that have not already done so are encouraged to enroll in ALERTFlagler (www.flaglercounty.org/alertflagler) to ensure they are notified of pertinent emergency information. A short instructional YouTube will assist with the enrollment process.

Stay updated with accurate local information at the following sites:

Flagler County Emergency Management: www.FlaglerCounty.org/emergency
Flagler County Emergency Services Facebook: www.facebook.com/FlaglerEOC
Flagler County Emergency Services Twitter: www.twitter.com/FlaglerEM
Flagler County Government Facebook: www.facebook.com/FlaglerCountyGovernement
Flagler County Emergency Services’ Twitter: www.twitter.com/FlaglerCtyGov

Copyright WJXT and News Service of Florida. All rights reserved.