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Zeta Cleanup Continues

Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office

Hurricane Zeta continues its trek across the Southeast, after slamming into the northern Gulf Coast as a strong Category-2 and almost a Category-3 storm.

“We just had [Hurricane] Sally; we did some after-actions with our partners, and guess what?  We got to strengthen some of the areas we felt like we could improve on, and we implemented them during [Zeta]. And it worked great,” said  Eric Gilmore, Escambia County’s Emergency Management Director.

He agrees with those who say the Panhandle “dodged a bullet” with Zeta, but it didn’t emerge unscathed.

“We had expected to see two to three inches of rain; it was a fast mover, and we wasn’t going to get the accumulation like we did during Sally, where she just kind of meandered on top of us,” said Gilmore. “We did get the winds, the gusts over 70 [mph] throughout the county.”

Sally left behind a number of damaged trees and infrastructure last month, and Gilmore says a primary concern were damaged trees and hanging vegetation.

“We did see some trees fall; we did lose some,” Gilmore said. “We knew we were going to lose some trees [and] we knew we were going to lose some power — isolated power — and we did see that. We dodged one. This one could have shifted a little further east and we could have got more of the brunt of it. So it kind of stayed northwest of us and we got the outskirts of it.”

“Obviously, this was not a Hurricane Sally, so there wasn’t as much damage to the grid and some of our equipment,” said Kimberly Blair at Gulf Power. “There was a lot of fuses blown, some wires down.”

Credit Gulf Power Co.
Gulf Power crews deployed to restore electricity for customers losing power during Hurricane Zeta.

More than 50,000 customers in EscaRosa have been restored as of mid-afternoon Thursday. Blair adds Zeta’s fast track through the area enabled crews to get to work right away.

“We were very, very fortunate that Zeta came through very quickly, that we were more on the tropical storm side of that storm,” Blair said. “That really played a big part in minimizing the damage. The power will be eventually restored to all of our customers by midnight tonight.”

Gulf Power crews were staged at four sites between Pensacola and Crestview. Blair says for now, no crews and equipment have been sent west to the hardest-hit areas. Blair says the focus of the 2,300 line and vegetation workers is on the utility’s customers in Northwest Florida.

“That included Gulf Power employees and contractors, along with about 1,300 resources from our Florida Power & Light family. Right now I have not heard that we are sending anyone right now, but we definitely want to wrap up our work and then, we’ll know something after that.”

Next up, sifting through the data from the storm and looking at the newest lessons learned from Zeta.

“Every storm is different; with every storm we always learn something new,” said Blair. “Or confirm that we do have a very good storm plan put together, and we execute it to make sure that we are restoring power as quickly and as safely as possible for our customers.”

Despite the frantic hurricane season of 2020, Escambia Emergency chief Eric Gilmore says their resources remain steady, thanks to a little help from their friends in Tallahassee, and from the local contingent.

“We just came through Sally a little over a month [ago], and fatigue you would think would set in,” said Gilmore. “I gotta tell you – we turned the lights on to the [Emergency Operations Center]; our local partners here and your local people who operate this EOC. [They] came in full force, ready to operate, ready to stand up, and ready to do what we needed to do. And we got the job done; I applaud these guys.”

And Gilmore had this final piece of advice – hurricane season still has another month to go.

“We’re still in hurricane season until Nov. 30,” Gilmore said. I had somebody the other day say, ‘I can’t wait until Nov. 1’ and I said ‘What happens then?’ And he said ‘Hurricane season’s over with.’ I want to remind everybody – it is six full months. So, stay vigilant.”