The devastation caused by Hurricane Idalia on Florida’s pristine Gulf Coast has flooded coastal communities and killed at least two people.
Idalia made landfall in the Sunshine State around 7.45am on Wednesday. It struck the Big Bend region, a sparsely populated, rural area sometimes known as Florida’s ‘Nature Coast.’
The Big Bend usually does not see direct hits from hurricanes, leading to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Tallahassee to call the storm ‘unprecedented.’
Idalia directly struck the unincorporated area of Keaton Beach, about 22 miles south of the city of Perry and 20 miles north of the coastal town of Steinhatchee.
The town sits at the mouth of the Steinhatchee River, which saw devastating flooding occur only minutes after the storm approached the mainland.
At 7.30am, the Steinhatchee River was .83 feet higher than its average its stage, or reference height.
By 7.45am, that height had swelled to 2.49 feet higher than average. Just an hour later, the NWS recorded water levels of 8.02 feet higher than average.
Videos from Steinhatchee appear to show flooding so severe that individual buildings were turned into islands in the surging river waters.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported tidal waters a total of 6.8 feet higher than the normal on the island of Cedar Key, a small community that was evacuated by state order on Monday.
Most of the islands 900 residents evacuated over the last two days before the storm hit, but some locals and first responders stayed put.
Videos posted by Cedar Key Fire Rescue appear to show the island’s streets fully flooded with seawater.
‘We are going to need everyone’s patience,’ the agency said. ‘We are being told that the tide will continue to come in till noon. Most of the streets around the downtown area are underwater.’
Later the first responders reported propane tanks exploding across the island as the storm raged.
‘Please do not come to Cedar Key,’ they said.
At least two people have died as a result of storm conditions, the Florida Highway Patrol confirmed.
The first death took place in Gainesville around 6.00am on Wednesday morning. While driving in ‘extremely rainy conditions,’ a driver veered into a ditch before crashing into the tree line.
Another death took place just south of the Big Bend in Pasco County, where a driver who was ‘traveling too fast for conditions’ collided with a tree after sliding off the roadway.
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