Leon Co. Opens Storm Shelter As Debby Drenches Panhandle

Jun 25, 2012

Leon Co. residents who need to evacuate from their homes can take shelter at the Florida State University High School, located at 3000 School House Road off of Capital Circle Southeast.

Flash flood warnings and mandatory evacuations continue as Tropical Storm Debby churns just off the coast of Florida’s Big Bend. Fla. Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency, and the National Weather Service predicts the Panhandle won’t see any relief from wet weather for at least two more days.

On Woodville Highway in Wakulla County, drivers swerve to avoid hitting the legions of frogs crossing the waterlogged road. Since Sunday morning, Debby has been dumping rain here in the Panhandle and on much of the rest of the state. And on Monday, residents of low-lying areas faced mandatory evacuations. One of the evacuees is 19-year-old Kelly McLauglin, who said she was worried about how to rescue two dogs and a cat from her home in coastal St. Marks.

“And they have barricades up. Some roads you can’t go down, because we’re so close to the water, they’re starting to flood," she says. "And the high tide’s coming in now, so it’s making it even worse.”

McLaughlin says the only reason she didn’t leave Sunday night was to work a shift at a St. Marks Subway restaurant. But the power is out inside the Subway, so the few customers who’ve come in leave without sandwiches. She watches the clock and thinks about her pets, who are back inside the mandatory evacuation zone.

"It’s really bad. Our whole yard is about ankle-deep right now," she said Monday morning.

Workers with Progress Energy utility company have restored power for more than 140,000 Florida customers since Sunday. Crew supervisor Glenn Hilditch says the storm has crews working up to 16-hour shifts in dangerous, wet conditions.

"And we have crews from out of town up here--this crew right here is from the Ocala-Inverness area—out here restoring power to the customers," he says.

In Tallahassee, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon said it’s unusual to have this much storm activity only a month into hurricane season. The first storm of every year begins with the letter A, the second with the letter B and so on. Koon says, Debby is the earliest-ever of any “D” name-storm to affect Florida. 

 “So it’s a good opportunity to review your disaster plan, understand what you would do if something were to strike your community," he said. "Review your emergency supply kit. Because it looks like we’re potentially in for a long season.”

Leon County’s emergency management director Richard Smith says his biggest concern is flooding.

“So people in low-lying or flood-prone areas need to be very aware, and of course, always with the winds and trees and power outages, everyone in the community needs to be extra cautious and just a little more careful when you’re going about your business," he said.

Both Leon Co. and the city of Tallahassee have set up locations where residents can make sandbags to protect their homes from flooding. Sand and bags will be provided free of charge at Apalachee Regional Park in front of the solid waste management facility and at the Messer Field South parking lot along Jackson Bluff Road. Residents are asked to bring their own shovels.

The American Red Cross has set up additional shelters in Liberty, Taylor, and Wakulla Counties. One of them is at Crawfordville Elementary School, where, Red Cross volunteer David Derouin said, the cafeteria has plenty of room for evacuees.

 “We’ve got cots and blankets and I’ve got coffee made, and we’re just waiting here to see if anybody needs a place to stay," he said.

State officials warn that even after the storm, conditions can be very dangerous. They remind residents not to drive on roads that are completely submerged in water and never to approach a downed power line.