ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ Hurricane Idalia was predicted to make landfall early Wednesday morning on Aug. 30 as a Category 3 hurricane with winds over 125 mph and 4 to 7 inches of rainfall. Early predictions had the storm as a direct hit on Cedar Key and then roaring over Alachua and Columbia counties as it traveled up the east coast. This would have made it the strongest storm to hit Alachua County in 100 years.
Just before making landfall, the massive hurricane shifted shortly before coming ashore, taking a curve to the northwest. The National Hurricane Center’s updated models on Tuesday showed only a part of Alachua County inside Idalia’s cone, and the 5 p.m. update shifted the cone even further north and west, keeping all of Alachua County and neighboring Gilchrist County outside the path.
While that was good news for Alachua County, it was bad news for Florida’s Big Bend area, especially Keaton Beach, located along Florida's Gulf Coast, 75 miles from Tallahassee.
Coastal towns along Florida's Big Bend, from Cedar Key northwest to Horseshoe Beach and Steinhatchee took the brunt of the storm with surges up to seven feet, flooding communities, destroying the landscape and demolishing buildings with winds up to 125 mph.
Inland, towns including Perry and nearby Live Oak suffered extensive damage from the wind as well. Over half a million residents lost power throughout the area that consisted of mainly rural communities, with no major population centers, which helped to keep structural damage and injuries down.
While not taking a direct hit, Alachua County still experienced damage from winds, which toppled trees, downed power lines and caused some structural damage, but it was much less than expected.
Alachua County issued its first ever mandatory evacuation order for mobile and manufactured homes, but the highest gusts of winds in the county were less than expected at around 55 mph, which were still high enough to cause damage and power outages throughout the area.
Public schools, the University of Florida and Santa Fe College were closed in anticipation of the oncoming storm. Schools reopened and resumed normal hours/operations on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023.
It took several days to restore all power in Alachua County as the power companies worked in the hardest hit areas first. Outages were widespread throughout northwest Florida with utility crews working 24 hours a day to restore power. Columbia, Alachua and Suwannee counties were lower on the list than some others that suffered more extensive damage.
Outages were reported in Duval, Flagler, Lake, Volusia, Baker, Bradford, Clay, Gilchrist, Levy, Marion, Putnam and Union counties. In Alachua County, the Public Works Department cleared 70 fallen trees that blocked roadways. With damage lighter than expected, the County was also able to provide public works and medical assistance to the surrounding harder hit counties.
Early reports claimed Hurricane Idalia was responsible for two deaths, a 59-year-old Gainesville man and a 40-year-old Spring Hill man. Both were killed Wednesday when they lost control of their vehicles while driving during the storm, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Alachua County was spared from the catastrophic damage other areas suffered as Idalia was a devasting Category 3 hurricane that caused flooding, power outages and structural damage to northwest Florida and up into Georgia and the Carolinas.
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