Florida Starts to Recover as Idalia Rain Batters North Carolina

Florida has started to dig out from the aftermath of Idalia, which weakened to a tropical storm even as it brought heavy rain across Georgia and the Carolinas.

(Bloomberg) — Florida has started to dig out from the aftermath of Idalia, which weakened to a tropical storm even as it brought heavy rain across Georgia and the Carolinas.

While the hurricane caused billions of dollars in damage, left hundreds of flights grounded and thousands without power, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis expressed relief that it didn’t cause any known deaths.

“To be here and not have any reported fatalities — it’s probably not something most people would have bet on four or five days ago, knowing how strong this storm was,” the governor said at a briefing in Tallahassee on Thursday.

Idalia’s top winds were at 60 miles (97 kilometers) per hour as the storm crawled toward the North Carolina coast on its path back out to the Atlantic, the US National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 8 a.m. local time. Still, the center warned of life-threatening flash flooding in parts of the state. Officials continue to assess damage after Idalia came ashore in Florida Wednesday as a Category 3 hurricane. 

Tampa International Airport was back in operation on Thursday morning. More than 1,000 flights were canceled into and out of the US on Wednesday, with many cancellations at Tampa and Atlanta airports, according to FlightAware.

Reports of damaged buildings and flooding have poured in from Florida’s coastal counties and at least one case of looting in Steinhatchee, about 16 miles southeast of where Idalia came ashore with 125 mile-per-hour winds.

Idalia was the second major hurricane to hit western Florida in a year. Last September, Hurricane Ian struck further south, killing at least 150 people and causing more than $112 billion in damage. Wednesday’s storm came ashore in a sparsely populated area of the state’s Big Bend region and will likely cause $10 billion to $20 billion in damage in Florida and across the US South. It is possible Idalia could go on to hit Bermuda early next week. 

“There were approximately 1 million people within 30 miles of landfall for Ian, while there are about 38,000 people within that distance for Idalia,” AccuWeather Inc. said. 

The storm is drenching the coastal Carolinas just ahead of the Labor Day weekend. The stretch of North Carolina’s Outer Banks from Ocracoke Inlet to the village of Duck — usually popular with vacationers this time of year — could see a storm surge of much as 3 feet (0.91 meters), according to the hurricane center. 

Parts of the region are likely to see as much as 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) of rainfall by Thursday afternoon. Flash, urban and river flooding is likely, “with considerable impacts,” it added.

As of 9:19 a.m., about 288,000 people in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina were without power, according to PowerOutage.us. About 420,000 Florida accounts that lost power have been restored, DeSantis said at the briefing.

Idalia brought flooding to most of Florida’s West Coast, with the area around Tampa Bay and Clearwater seeing water rising as much as 5.2 feet, according to the National Ocean Service. In St. Petersburg, officials closed the pier and asked people to avoid the area. 

Some of the hardest-hit areas in the state had widespread power outages and some businesses caught fire while others had their roofs knocked off, said Kevin Guthrie, executive director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. 

President Joe Biden approved federal emergency declarations for Florida, allowing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper all declared emergencies as well. 

Idalia steered clear of most oil and natural gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. But fuel markets were effectively closed with terminals shut in Tampa, Jacksonville and Savannah as the stormed passed through.

The Environmental Protection Agency is waiving summertime gasoline volatility requirements in Florida in an attempt to boost fuel supply and keep prices low. The waiver allows sales of fuel with higher volatility through Sept. 15. 

–With assistance from Anna Jean Kaiser, Chunzi Xu, Sheela Tobben, Dayanne Sousa, Shoko Oda and Brian Wingfield.

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