State Surveys Flood Damage

By: Courtney Hayes
By: Courtney Hayes

State Emergency Management officials finally showed up to survey the damage in Wewahitchka Monday, four days after the Apalachicola and Chipola Rivers spilled into hundreds of homes and onto a handful of major roadways.

Gulf County officials say they ran out of emergency funds on the first day it flooded. Still, state officials say it could be a few days before Wewa sees any relief.

"To get a federal declaration you need a little over $16 million in damages to primary residences. With the water still rising, it's hard to get to some areas, so it's going to be two or three-day cycle before we get an accurate count," says Jim Helms with State Emergency Management.

Gulf County officials say the miscommunication started with wrong river readings. The state thought the river sat at 22 feet, when in reality it was rising to over 26 feet.

"This is going to be a bigger disaster then in 1998, because the water is not receding. It continues to rise; tremendous lack of communication between FEMA and Gulf County. We still have FEMA thinking everything is fine," says Gulf County Commissioner Billy Traylor.

A boat ride along Lake Grove Road or Howard Creek proves everything is not fine. Now rescue teams and local law enforcement are running on empty.

"Because they haven't declared a state of disaster, they can only work eight hours a day. If you see the houses are affected, these people here are our security. Search and Rescue have done and outstanding job, but they can't work over eight hours. We're going to need money, and these people are going to need some help," says Traylor.

The Gulf County Commission sent letters to Gov. Jeb Bush and Speaker Allan Bense, pleading them to declare a state of emergency.

State officials say there must be more than $16 million in damage throughout the four affected counties to meet the criteria for funding.


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