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Claudette Left A Mark In Northwest Florida

Tropical Storm Claudette continues to churn up the Eastern Seaboard, but she is history in the Florida Panhandle. But while here this weekend, she left her mark.

“It could have been worse — it could have been a lot worse. We could have seen the ‘training’ event and have water stacking up and had flooding problems in, of course, our typical areas, but [also] in other parts of the county. So, we did OK,” said Eric Gilmore, Escambia County Emergency Director.

Claudette did pack torrential rains and caused some flooding, which emergency personnel expected from the get-go. A possible tornado, and at least high winds, hit the Ferry Pass area.

“Two structures that did wind up with trees on top of them, [and] during this even nobody got injured. I thank the public for taking care of themselves,” said Gilmore. “We had some trees down, some limbs down, power lines — lost a little bit more power than what we thought we would have. But we did get some pretty good gusts of wind in the area.”

Another bit of good news is that road damages were relatively slight, with no major arteries affected.

“The north end of Rolling Hills Road did sustain a washout; we think a beaver dam blew out and a lot of water come through there and washed the road out, Gilmore said. “We did get a bridge on the north end of the county, on Rigby Road, got washed on the approach from the asphalt to the concrete side. And we had Greenland Road get washed from one of the storm drains there.”

Some damage to buildings at Ellyson Industrial Park are also reported, due to what’s believed to be a tornado. The National Weather Service in Mobile is investigating.

Meanwhile in Santa Rosa County, damage is currently being evaluated.

“We did experience some wind damage, which is being evaluated by the National Weather Service in Mobile; they’re out in the county evaluating the Chumuckla area and northern Pace for either a tornado or some straight-line winds,” said Tom Lloyd, Emergency Director in Santa Rosa County.

Among the structural damage reported, was one residence that had its roof blown off.

“In the Wallace Lake area, on the northern side of Pace, we did experience some elevated winds,” said Lloyd. “And on Wallace Drive we had a mobile home-type structure that experienced significant damage, as well as a shed on that property.”

No injuries were reported in Santa Rosa as well, and Lloyd says that, quite obviously, is a good thing.

“That makes me feel good, as part of the emergency management team, to know that our watches, our warnings, our public information that we put out,” said Lloyd. “Our public outreach on how to kind of deal with severe weather in our community is being listened to, and it looks like some good practices are being applied.”

Given the relatively light nature of Claudette, not many lessons will be gleaned from her, says Escambia County’s Eric Gilmore. But he adds previous lessons from Hurricane Sally last September were put into play.

“We up-staffed, I feel appropriately; we had additional fire crews on, additional EMS services on, and we absolutely watched those areas that we have problems with during Sally and all the other flooding events,” Gilmore said. “We wanted to make sure that we didn’t have any issues in those areas.”

Every year, more people move to the Gulf Coast who have never encountered a hurricane up close and personal. Gilmore says that is an absolute concern for emergency officials, adding that they’re available to speak to groups.

“First and foremost, know your zone; find out if you’re in a storm surge zone or a flood zone,” Gilmore said. “Go to bereadyescambia.com; we have an interactive map – type your address in and see if you’re in a flood zone or a flood zone. That way it gives you right there, ‘Do I need to evacuate?’ Because we always want to run from the water, and hide from the wind.”

Santa Rosa’s Tom Lloyd agrees that educating new residents is a key to public safety. Given the military population – which tends to rotate in and out about every four years, he adds that the lessons have to be taught over and over.

“Our public information team does an amazing job on social media; as well as we host ‘Sky Warning’ classes that the National Weather Service will put on.” Lloyd said. “We will host sometimes here at emergency management. And now, coming through the pandemic there was a shift to online classes.”

As mentioned, more information is available at bereadyescambia.com, and at santarosa.fl.gov or on counties’ Facebook page. Information is also at the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, floridapublicmedia.org.