Escambia County is continuing recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally as most of the lights are on and officials anxiously await word from President Donald Trump declaring the event a "major disaster."
Officials announced Monday afternoon that a nighttime curfew for the entire county would no longer be in effect, except for Perdido Key. The island will remain under a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said his deputies continue to heavily patrol the worst affected areas as everyone looks toward recovery.
"Now it becomes the long march," Morgan said. "... We're going to be weeks or months fully recovering from this. Those of you who are not new to our community may remember Hurricane Ivan. I don't want to paint too grim a picture for everyone, because I think we're up and on our feet a lot quicker this time, but it was years that we still had blue tarps on everyone's homes. And so there's never a quick recovery from this."
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'Total devastation' throughout the Florida Panhandle
Morgan said he toured areas in Bristol Park, Innerarity Point and Perdido Key that he described as "total devastation" for the people who lived there.
"When you drive down the street, everything from the interior of the homes is out on the street to include drywall that they're cutting out to try to mitigate the water creep so when they do start to rebuild their homes, it won't be as devastating as it could be," Morgan said. "And that's anything that's in the ceiling. They're pulling all the insulation of the ceiling. So it looks like a warzone in these areas."
Many people in those areas will need financial help such as emergency loans from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that can only be issued in major disaster areas.
Trump issued a major disaster declaration for the three Alabama counties impacted Sally on Sunday night, but no such declaration has come yet for Escambia County.
Escambia County Administrator Janice Gilley was hopeful that it would come soon and said if county residents see teams wearing red shirts doing assessments in their neighborhoods of the damage, that will be submitted to FEMA to justify a major disaster declaration.
"It will determine our level of support that we get from the federal government and what the president signs," Gilley said. "I want to make that really clear because people have been a little bit concerned about people in red shirts being in communities. They really are from the government, and they really are here to help us this time."
Power to be restored to Escambia County soon
Escambia County was the only county in Florida on Monday with people still without power from Hurricane Sally with about 4,000 Gulf Power customers still out.
However, Gulf Power did meet its projection to have 95% of the county back on by Monday night with 97.3% of customers restored in Escambia County by 3 p.m.
"We're starting to close our staging sites today and releasing some of our crews," Gulf Power President Marlene Santos said Monday. "However, I want you to know that we're keeping a large number of crews still here, and we will not stop working until 100% of our customers are restored."
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Boil water lifted Monday night for most areas
Emerald Coast Utilities Authority on Monday night lifted a system-wide boil water notice except for two areas, a four-block area in East Hill and the Kings Road subdivision in Gonzalez.
During two rounds of 385 tests conducted across the county, only two samples came back with bad results, according to a press release from ECUA.
Areas covered under the boil water notice in the Kings Road subdivision are:
- Turnberry Road
- Donegal Drive
- Kings Road
- Kinsale Road
- Linton Way
- St. Andrews Drive
- Brampton Way
- Ashford Roard
- Derry Drive
- Glenmore Drive
- Callan Way
- Templemore Drive
- Galway Street
- Boxton Way
- Portree Way
Areas under the boil water notice in East Hill are:
- East Mallory Street between North 16th Avenue and North 20th Avenue
- East Lloyd between North 16th Avenue and North 20th Avenue
- East Moreno St. between North 16th Avenue and North 20th Avenue
- East Blount St. between North 16th Avenue and North 20th Avenue
- East Lee Street between North 16th Avenue and North 20th Avenue
Boil water notice: Water is safe to drink in these areas
With the power and water restored to most areas, county distribution sites of water and food have been closed. The county will work with local organizations to distribute emergency supplies to those who still need them.
'We aren't going anywhere'
More than 25,000 vehicles have come through the distribution sites and more than 30,000 hot meals have been served by organizations like the Salvation Army and Red Cross, Gilley said.
Gilley said people can get help cleaning up their yards or putting tarps on their roofs from volunteer organizations such as Crisis Cleanup at 800-451-1954 and the Florida Baptist Disaster Relief at 904-253-9924.
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"The national media has moved on to (Tropical Storm) Beta," Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender said. "They're no longer in our area. The power has come on. Some of these people that are responding and helping us in the storm may be packing up, just as we're starting to pack up our assistance. But I want to let everyone know that that your county government and our locals are still here to help. We aren't going anywhere."
Jim Little can be reached at email@example.com and 850-208-9827.