In Florida’s Big Bend region, Idalia left a tableau of toppled houses and destroyed vehicles in its wake and forced teams to make dozens of deep-water boat rescues, but overall the destruction was not as severe as feared. There were three confirmed deaths linked to the storm and another in Georgia.
The backend of the storm was producing downpours that could bring up to 10 inches (25 cm) in some spots along the coastline of North and South Carolina, the National Weather Service said.
As of midday, the center of the storm was moving eastward off the North Carolina Coast, about 120 miles (195 km) southeast of Cape Lookout as it carried winds of 65 mph (105 kph). It was expected to travel out to sea on Thursday night.
The rough conditions in the Carolinas come a day after Idalia crashed ashore at Keaton Beach in Florida’s Big Bend, where the state’s panhandle meets its peninsula, lashing the coast with sustained winds of up to 125 mph, torrential rains and pounding surf.
‘THE HOUSE IS STILL THERE’
Video images from Horseshoe Beach, about 30 miles south of landfall, showed scattered remains of trailer homes that were obliterated by Idalia, leaving only bare concrete platforms. Other trailer homes had toppled and slid into lagoons, and boat docks were reduced to piles of splintered lumber.
John “Sparky” Abrandt, a 77-year-old retiree who lives in the community, however said he felt relieved when he saw the damage to his home, even though the windows were blown out and household items were scattered about.
“I’m feeling great. The house is still here,” he said.
Local, state and federal authorities will assess the full extent of damage in the days ahead. Insured property losses in Florida were projected to run $9.36 billion, investment bank UBS said in a research note.
“We’ve seen a lot of heart-breaking damage,” Governor Ron DeSantis said during an afternoon news briefing after touring three communities near where the storm made landfall.
President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for several hard-hit Florida counties, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Deanne Criswell said after touring the area with DeSantis.
Despite the heavy damage to homes in coastal communities, Idalia was far less destructive than Hurricane Ian, a Category 5 storm that struck Florida last September, killing 150 people and causing $112 billion in damage.
By contrast, Idalia’s storm surge – considered the greatest hazard posed by major hurricanes – appeared to have caused no deaths. Florida Highway Patrol reported that two motorists had died in rain-related crashes before landfall, and there were two confirmed storm-related traffic deaths, one in Florida and one in Georgia.
DeSantis credited the accuracy of the forecast for helping to save lives, having predicted accurately where the storm would make landfall days before its arrival. As a consequence, most residents had evacuated.
“People, particularly in this area – who were in the way of a potential significant storm surge – they did take the proper precautions,” he said.
In Horseshoe Beach, Austin “Buddy” Daniel Ellison, 39, and his father Ronald Daniel Ellison, walked through the ruins of Ed’s Baitshop, the family’s business. Nearby, their home was badly damaged.
“I ain’t never seen one like this, my Dad never seen one like this,” Buddy Ellison said.
Even so, they were grateful no one was hurt. Everyone had evacuated just before the storm hit, although they have no insurance and will have to leave the area where their family has deep roots.
“This storm is forcing us out of here,” Ronald Ellison said. “We won’t survive.”
RISK OF FLASH FLOODING
The NWS said the heavy rainfall in the Carolinas would diminish during Thursday afternoon but warned of possible life-threatening flash flooding especially in low-lying areas and along rivers, through the evening. Storm surge watches were also in effect for several oceanfront communities as fierce winds remained in the forecast.
Across the Southeast, electricity outages from fallen trees, utility poles and power lines were widespread. In all, more than 175,000 homes and businesses were without power in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas on Thursday, according to Poweroutage.us.
Florida officials said crews would restore most of the state’s power outages within 48 hours.
The state’s priorities in hard-hit areas were restoring traffic signals, clearing debris and bringing in more portable generators, said Jared Perdue, who heads the state’s Transportation Department.
All state bridges in storm-stricken areas had been found to be structurally sound. A total of 30 of the 52 school districts that closed ahead of the storm reopened on Thursday, officials said. Eight others were expected to resume classes on Friday.
(Reporting by Maria Alejandra Cardona in Steinhatchee, Florida, and Marco Bello in Cedar Key, Florida; Additional reporting by Rich McKay and Brendan O’Brien; Writing by Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Marguerita Choy)