What we know about the damage in Florida from Hurricane Idalia
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
To Florida now, where officials are starting to assess the damage from Hurricane Idalia. The Category 3 storm slammed into the Gulf Coast with 125 mph winds. It left communities without power, many homes, many businesses underwater. The storm is now moving through Georgia and South Carolina. NPR's Bobby Allyn has been following Idalia from Lake City, Fla. Hey there, Bobby.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So Idalia was a tropical storm and then it became a hurricane. We're back now to a tropical storm. As far as we can tell so far, how bad was Idalia?
ALLYN: Yeah, I mean, it really depends on how we're measuring. So far, authorities have confirmed two storm-related deaths due to car crashes in hurricane conditions. Rescuers have been pulling dozens of people from flooded homes up and down the Gulf Coast. Kevin Guthrie is the director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, and he says they're doing what they can for now.
KEVIN GUTHRIE: We continue to search, secure and stabilize areas that we can do that in.
ALLYN: And one of the biggest challenges right now, Mary Louise, are widespread power outages. Some 270,000 customers in Florida alone are without power. That number has been fluctuating all day. In fact, the hotel I'm staying in is completely dark. So I had to find another place with a power generator in order to work and talk to you right now. Across town, traffic lights are out. Trees and utility poles are toppled. Authorities are just scrambling to restore power. But it could take days or weeks or longer until the power comes back.
KELLY: Oh, goodness. Yeah. OK, so tell me more about this part of Florida where you are. This is the part of the state known as the Big Bend?
ALLYN: Yeah, that's right. So the Big Bend is part of northern Florida where the panhandle bends into the peninsula. It's very rural. It's not very populated. It's mostly marshy wetlands around pine forests dotted with poultry and cattle farms. I spent the whole day today driving through the Big Bend, attempting to make my way to the coast where the storm came ashore. But it was not possible. About every 50 feet or so I was encountering obstacle after obstacle - uprooted trees, broken power poles, downed lines, stacks of debris and power nowhere. At one point, a local with a pickup truck and a rope had to tow my car out of mud that I got stuck in.
KELLY: Oh, my goodness. Well, I'm glad you ran into them. Is there anybody else out and about? I mean, are you able to talk to people as you attempt to drive around?
ALLYN: Yeah. You know, there weren't that many people around. Most of what you can see driving around were electrical workers and tree-cutting crews beginning the long and arduous task of clearing roads and resurrecting the power grid. But I did find two guys working on a generator on a porch, Tony Purpora and Bobby Hooper. Hooper said the wind from the storm was indeed fierce and rattled his home, but thankfully there was no major damage. But like so many others, he's going to be relying on a generator for a while. And he's trying to fix up another one he found in his garage for his friend Tony.
BOBBY HOOPER: It's going to be tough 'cause we're going to be without a power for a week or two. So I'm a mechanic. I have a shop back here, my own home business. And I'm fixing to try to get this generator for him running.
ALLYN: So right now, we're looking at a generator. You're going to try to get it up and running. How much electricity will this give you?
HOOPER: Well, enough to run his refrigerator.
KELLY: It really gives you a sense of what everybody there is facing these coming days. When might we have a better picture, Bobby, of how great a toll Idalia has taken?
ALLYN: Yeah, you know, it's going to take a while. The storm is still moving across the southeast. It barreled into Georgia with winds of up to 90 mph. There were pockets of very heavy rain and isolated tornadoes there. And as is always the case with hurricanes, flooding and storm surge is a major concern since that's how most people die in hurricanes. You know, along the coast, state troopers went door to door warning residents that the storm surge could reach as high as 16 feet. It's unclear how many hunkered down and how many evacuated. But, Mary Louise, search and rescue crews are now combing across the entire Gulf Coast up here, searching for bodies or people in distress. It's really going to be a long process.
KELLY: Bobby Allyn reporting for us there from Lake City, Fla. And, Bobby, thanks for that reporting and good luck getting those lights back on.
ALLYN: Thanks. Appreciate it.
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