|Debby wreaks havoc on local roads|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Joel Addington|
|Thursday, 28 June 2012 14:40|
The Baker County Commission declared a state of emergency county-wide the morning of June 26 as steady rainfall from Tropical Storm Debby continued to blanket the region.
More than 50 roadways were reportedly impassable and many of them barricaded due to standing water or other damage caused by flooding that day.
A roughly 25-foot stretch of the newly-paved Cow Pen Road near Tennessee Street in the central county washed away overnight and a four-wheeler got mired in the standing water later in the day.
County Manager C.J. Thompson urged residents to observe road closure signs and avoid attempts to traverse standing water. He said the four-wheeler accident injured one of two riders and happened when the driver rode around the Cow Pen closure sign and fell into the crevasse.“It was something that could have easily been prevented,” he said
Interstate 10 was shut down between the US 90 interchange west of Sanderson and I-75 with traffic detoured onto US 90. Stretches of other county thoroughfares like CRs 125, 127, 229, 228 and Mud Lake Road were closed throughout the day, further restricting traffic flow and trapping many residents in their homes or away from them.
“We’re focusing on keeping the paved roads open and safe,” county road director Robert Fletcher said while updating commissioners on the state of the county’s roadways at the 11 am meeting with the board.
“Water is running so fast it’s like rapids,” he said of CR 125 near Odis Yarbrough Road. “It’s not safe to cross.”
The county deployed road graders in effort to “slope out” washed out dirt roads, Mr. Fletcher said, but most road repairs will have to wait until after the rain stops. Once the storm passes, it could be several weeks before most roads are back to normal, he said.
A sewer line collapsed early Tuesday on the east side of South 6th Street in Macclenny just south of Minnesota Avenue as well. Utility crews soon installed a bypass and monitored the site throughout the day.
City workers also pumped out flood waters in the area of Miltondale Lane to protect homes there.
As county commissioners convened at the county administration building, two buckets were catching water from the leaking ceiling, the toilets in the building were out of order and the manholes outside were spewing sewer water.
Clerk of Courts Al Fraser said water had seeped into the courthouse basement, including an electrical and AC room, but the structure was otherwise fairing well early Tuesday.
The board’s emergency declaration came on the heels of a similar declaration by the state, both of which pave the way for disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA, namely in the form of reimbursements to state and local government coffers for storm-related response and clean-up expenses.
The sheriff’s office used its emergency telephone notification system about 9 am Tuesday morning to urge residents county-wide to evacuate from low-lying or flood-prone areas and seek shelter elsewhere. The agency declared a mandatory evacuation for homes on Steel Bridge Road about 7 pm.
The county activated two shelters Tuesday morning. One staffed by volunteers from the Red Cross opened at Macclenny Elementary School for the general public and a special needs shelter was available at Fraser Hospital.
Both remained open overnight Tuesday.
The school shelter, which can house nearly 500 people, took in a handful of evacuees by mid-afternoon but most of them left the shelter for other accommodations.
“We’ll be here as long as we need to be,” said Red Cross volunteer Jim Simmons.
Local motels reported four families had rented rooms by mid-afternoon Tuesday, including two families from Taylor.
A shelter for livestock and other animals was available at the fairgrounds, though officials asked that animals be spray painted to help with identification after the storm.
Adam Faircloth, the sheriff’s office emergency management director, said deputies would be posted in the Steel Bridge Road area and at local shelters to assist as needed.
Sandbags were available to city and county residents at the City of Macclenny yard behind the health department and fire station off West Lowder Street.
Local fire departments, sheriff’s deputies and emergency medical services responded to a steady stream of emergency calls early this week, including a stranded motorist whose vehicle hydroplaned off US 90 late Monday evening about midnight near Baker Correctional Institute.
The car came to rest in a roadside culvert full of rushing water and began sinking. Its driver was able to escape through a window and police found him on top the car waving for help.
The storm and rain-soaked earth yielded a macabre result as a burial vault floated to the surface at North Prong Cemetery west of the St. Mary’s River Tuesday morning.
Local funeral director Todd Ferreira and several employees responded to the scene shortly after the vault containing the casket of Lorrine Buffington surfaced and re-buried it.
Ms. Buffington died in March at the age of 67.
Summer school was closed for Wednesday and school district officials said they would reassess conditions daily and post closure notices on the school district’s web site, http://www.baker.k12.fl.us.
The water elevation of the St. Mary’s River at the Steel Bridge Road boat ramp has been on a steady rise since Monday and reached 21.5 feet late Tuesday evening, according to the National Weather Service.
The agency forecasted the river would crest Wednesday at more than 22 feet, just under the 23.25-foot record hit in 1964. The Macclenny weather tower at the Ag Center measured some 14 inches of rainfall since Saturday, June 23, as well.