Live Oak —
December marked the sixth month anniversary of Tropical Storm Debby and the devastation that left some hopeless and many homeless. Residents of Suwannee County were stunned on Tuesday morning, June 25, 2012, 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.
Four-hundred businesses and homes were impacted by the storm.
The night the storm struck the region, crews from Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative Inc. were serving customers with power outages. As of 5:20 a.m. that morning, there were hundreds of SVEC power users affected by outages in Hamilton, Lafayette and Suwannee counties, according to SVEC.
The next day, the Live Oak Fire Department urged residents to "stay home." Several businesses in Live Oak were under water due to heavy rainfall from Debby. The Suwannee County Coliseum and First Baptist Church of Live Oak opened their doors as shelters for those who were forced to leave their homes. American Red Cross workers reported that they were already serving between 30 and 40 displaced residents, but more were expected to arrive.
“We lost everything. Our house was under water and we lost clothes and all,” said displaced resident Felicia Sellers who was staying at First Baptist Church with her son, Michael Jr.
A flood on this scale hasn’t been seen in this area since Hurricane Dora flooded Live Oak in 1964. Businesses such as the Big Wheel Market Place saw up to seven feet of water and destroyed much of the merchandise inside. “I worked at a local relief center. It was very sad to see how many in our community (Debby) hurt,” said Marilyn Hornbeck. “I was really glad FEMA stepped in to help.”
Cars floated down Ohio Avenue and people waded in shoulder-high water on Howard Street.
Hundreds of sinkholes were reported and were responsible for several road closures and the destruction of several homes. Ten homes and two businesses were condemned. As a result of Debby, FEMA has obligated more than $2.8 million for public assistance projects in Suwannee County which include roads and other infrastructure. “Additionally, in Suwannee County, more than 980 disaster survivors have received more than $6.2 million in disaster assistance from FEMA,” said FEMA spokesperson Mary Olsen. The Small Business Administration has approved more than $5.8 million for disaster assistance loans for 117 residents and nine businesses. An SBA disaster loan can help homeowners, renters and businesses cover any repair or rebuilding costs not covered by private insurance or cover disaster-related damage costs that exceed the initial estimate.
The Suwannee County Planning and Zoning Department saw increased numbers in business since Debby. In the first five months of 2012, the zoning department issued 267 permits. The department issued 294 permits within four months after the storm, showing a remarkable increase from the first part of the year.
Since TS Debby made its way through the county, local residents and business owners have been on the path to recovery.