More Severe Weather Hampers Florida Panhandle Flood Recovery

April 15, 2009

More severe weather downed trees, temporarily closed some streets and roads and put flood recovery and damage assessment efforts from prior storms on hold in north Florida and the Panhandle.

Officials were worried thunderstorms that produced high winds, hail and downpours would endanger emergency management crews and cause rivers to rise again.

“Most of the rivers remain at or near flood stage,” state emergency management spokesman Mike Stone said.

Most of the Panhandle and areas east and southeast of Tallahassee were under tornado watches or warnings for most of the day. Radar indicated a twister west of Tallahassee, but National Weather Service officials were not immediately able to confirm it was a tornado and had received no damage reports.

Thunderstorms dumped 2.5 inches of rain on Tallahassee and more than 3 inches on Panama City through early evening Monday, Weather Service science officer Irv Watson said. More was expected overnight.

A series of storms nearly three weeks ago caused river flooding throughout the region. Floodwaters were still rising in the Santa Fe and lower Suwannee rivers, but rivers elsewhere had been going down.

The new rainfall was expected to cause some of those rivers to rise again, Stone said. The Ochlockonee River at Havana north of Tallahassee was expected to go back above flood stage Tuesday with moderate flooding Wednesday. Minor flooding was expected on the Escambia, Blackwater and Shoal rivers in the western Panhandle.

Despite the additional rainfall, U.S. Highway 90 was reopened after being closed for five days at the Suwannee River about 65 miles east of Tallahassee, but officials were keeping an eye on U.S. 27 farther downstream near Branford, Stone said. A total of 336 roads and 25 bridges were closed.

The lower Suwannee, although above flood stage, had not risen as high as previously forecast, said Suwannee County Sheriff Tony Cameron.

“The town of Branford has been spared,” Cameron said. “It’s still rising, but it’s rising slowly.”

Cameron and other officials, though, feared the new storm front could change that. Thunderstorms were expected to remain in the area through into Tuesday.

The flooding claimed two lives in late March in the Panhandle’s Okaloosa County. An elderly man swept away April 5 by Withlacoochee floodwaters in Madison County east of Tallahassee was still missing, emergency management spokeswoman Jill Peve said.

Assessments completed so far count 125 homes destroyed, 100 with major damage and 421 with minor damage in 16 counties. Six evacuations remained in effect in Calhoun, Columbia, Madison, Hamilton, Suwannee and Walton counties.

Parts of the lower Suwannee aren’t expected to crest until next week.

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