Live Oak —
Residents of Suwannee County were stunned Tuesday morning after waking up to historic water levels after Monday night’s rainfall that flooded downtown Live Oak and left many people throughout the county displaced. A flood on this scale hasn’t been seen in this area since Hurricane Dora flooded Live Oak in 1964.
Thankfully, there were no serious injuries reported Tuesday afternoon.
The flood waters were so intense in some areas throughout the county that Suwannee County Emergency Management officials declared a voluntary evacuation of low-lying areas and locations near rivers, streams and creeks.
Tropical Storm Debby dropped up to 16 inches of rain throughout the area in less than 24 hours causing countless residents to evacuate from their homes and many businesses in downtown Live Oak under water. While some residents were evacuated, others were unable to leave their homes because access roads were flooded. Throughout the day Tuesday, water levels continued to rise as retention ponds reached their limits and extended into neighborhoods, lawns and peoples’ homes.
Throughout Tuesday, volunteers and emergency workers came to the aid of many throughout the county. Friends and strangers alike helped one another and neighbors even became better acquainted.
Motorists found difficulty navigating the roads. One motorist was reported hanging from a tree limb after her car became stuck in rushing flood waters on CR 49 near 180th Street. According to reports, another car fell into a sink hole on 153rd Road.
According to Suwannee County Sheriff Tony Cameron, the major concern at this time is water. Cameron stated that Debby could bring five more inches of rain to the area on Tuesday, with more showers on Wednesday. The National Weather Service forecasted 80 percent more chance of rain for our area with a 40 percent chance on Wednesday.
One of Cameron’s concerns is that people are wading or playing in flood water that poses potential danger. According to Cameron, the floodwater in the city could be contaminated with raw sewage, making it very unsafe. In addition to that danger, Cameron noted that sinkholes and electrical current could pose a threat. Cameron noted that a downed power line could pose the threat of electrocution for someone wading in the water.
Although water is one of the main concerns at this point, potential winds coming in with Tropical Storm Debby could have an impact on the area as well. According to Cameron, the wet ground will increase the possibility of trees falling. Cameron suggests that residents remain in a safe part of the homes to avoid the possibility of being hit by a falling tree.
The rains from Tropical Storm Debby has caused flooding on most of the roads and streets throughout the county, causing road closures. Suwannee County school buses could be seen throughout the county Tuesday blocking intersections and main roads. Supervisor of Elections Glenda Williams said, “The electronic elections machines have been moved to higher ground and everything is safe.” There was no water in the elections office as of 9 a.m. Tuesday morning despite water flooding the road and parking lot to the north of the building. Live Oak Fire Chief Chad Croft reiterated the dangers of drivers ignoring the barricades and driving through water anyway.
Since early Tuesday, city and county rescue workers have assisted residents evacuate from their homes. Workers eventually found it impossible to reach some residents by truck and began using boats to rescue them. Suwannee County Schools Director of Facilities Mark Carver used an airboat to rescue people from apartments on Walker Avenue, near Silas Drive.
Lyn Fletcher of the W.B. Howland Co., Inc. said he first got a call from the Live Oak Fire Department about 2 a.m., Tuesday.
“When they told me they needed supplies from our lumber yard and explained the situation, I told them to cut the lock and take what they needed,” Fletcher explained.
In addition to homes flooding throughout the community, a number of vehicles were also flooded. Many vehicles have been damaged from the rising waters as some motorist have required the assistance from rescue workers.
As Tropical Storm Debby brings immediate threats and difficulties, the lasting effect of the storm is certain to linger. Live Oak Post Master Donna Luse noted that some areas might require days for mail carriers to deliver the mail.
Luse explained that many major highways in the area are closed, but mail carriers are going to attempt to safely deliver the mail to the places they can. Luse emphasized they are doing everything they can to deliver the mail and asks for residents to be patient.
In Branford, some roads were impassable and Town Hall officials said that if you don’t have to be on the roads, don’t. "If you don't have to be out today, stay in and stay safe," Town Clerk Donna Hardin said.
Most businesses and government offices in Live Oak remained closed on Tuesday. Business owners and volunteers worked diligently placing sandbags around structures in attempt to keep water out of buildings. In the Downtown District of Live Oak, concerns of flooding water had shopkeepers moving merchandise and equipment. Just one block away, records were being situated in the vault of the Suwannee County Courthouse to protect them from unwanted water.
According to Suwannee County Clerk of the Court Barry Baker, there were no records damaged.
As rescue workers helped residents find safety throughout Tuesday, the First Baptist Church of Live Oak opened its doors for those residents who were displaced by the storm.
American Red Cross workers were available when the doors were opened for shelter at the Suwannee County Coliseum Exhibition Building. Cots remain stretched along the walls of the building as weary people of all ages wait to return to their homes and assess the damages.
American Red Cross workers said that they were already serving between 30 and 40 displaced residents Tuesday morning, but more were expected to arrive. Workers encourage those seeking shelter at the coliseum to bring their medication, a pillow and a blanket. Felicia Sellers said she is just thankful her and her son, Michael Jr., are alright. “We lost everything. Our house is under water and we lost clothes and all,”
said displaced resident Felicia Sellers who was staying at First Baptist Church with her son Tuesday.
According to Cameron, people were being evacuated in various parts of the county, but as of Tuesday morning most of the evacuations were occurring on the north side of the city. “There was about three feet of water we had to walk through to assist our neighbor,” said Bruce Gardner, who heard her cry out for help around 5:30 Tuesday morning.
While the storm has brought an enormous amount of rain to the area, rescue workers remain thankful that no serious injuries have been reported. As neighbors help one another during this crisis, it is hard for many of them to realize that just a few days ago, substantial rainfall seemed foreign to a drought stricken community.