The latest from Florida's Cedar Key, one of the areas Hurricane Idalia hit hardest
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
In Florida, cleanup is underway a day after Hurricane Idalia slammed into the state's Big Bend region. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis surveyed some of the damage today, accompanied by FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell. The good news, the governor said, so far there have been few fatalities in Florida directly connected to the storm. NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: This island saw a nearly 7-foot storm surge, the highest ever recorded here. Hurricane Idalia inundated the lowest parts of Cedar Key and brought anywhere between a few inches to several feet of water into many homes and businesses. Nearly everyone evacuated from the island before the storm. Today, many people were back, assessing the damage and beginning the cleanup. A few blocks back from the Gulf, Tony Jones was using a Shop-Vac to start drying out a friend's house.
TONY JONES: All this was underwater. I figure at least 2 or 3 feet, maybe more. I don't know.
ALLEN: Some of the worst damage from Idalia is on Cedar Key's Dock Street. That's a block of bars, restaurants and shops that cater to tourists - a mainstay of the island economy. At Duncan's On The Gulf, the rising floodwaters buckled the restaurant's concrete floor. Owner Laura Duncan says out back, the damage is even worse.
LAURA DUNCAN: Careful.
DUNCAN: I was telling them that nobody's taking pictures from the back, and we've lost a whole deck in the back. The stairs are gone. Everything's gone.
ALLEN: Duncan was there with staff and others today beginning the cleanup. She says rebuilding will begin as soon as they get permits.
DUNCAN: We always do. We always do. You've got to have faith. It's all - it's nothing but material, if you think about it. Material could be worked. You know, it's wood - build back together and nails and make it a new look.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY HUMMING)
ALLEN: Throughout Cedar Key today, people were using heavy equipment to clear debris. At a coffeehouse, The Prickly Palm, owner Hannah Healey and friends were cleaning up.
HANNAH HEALEY: In the business, it's probably bellybutton height or higher of - it was - standing water.
ALLEN: Healey says as Idalia approached, she removed refrigerators and kitchen equipment from the coffeehouse and stored them off island. But she says she couldn't prepare for such a massive storm surge and the damage it caused to her 90-year-old building.
HEALEY: It popped my entire floor. As the water came under the building and came up, it popped my floor. So there's a few holes in the floor.
ALLEN: Healey says her business and much of the island saw significant damage seven years ago in Hurricane Hermine. It took time, but Cedar Key came back from that. And recently, she says, more people and businesses have moved to the town. Idalia's damage is even worse. But she's confident her funky coffeehouse and most businesses in Cedar Key will soon be rebuilt.
HEALEY: The whole building's redneck-engineered together, and a little redneck engineering and community love, and it'll go right back.
ALLEN: Power has already been restored to the undamaged homes and businesses here, and water service is resuming soon. Elsewhere in Florida's Big Bend, recovery is going more slowly. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses are still without electricity. Officials say the rural nature of the region and the many downed trees will make power restoration slow here. In Cedar Key, despite the historic storm surge, most people cleaning up today were remarkably upbeat. Tami Wilkes is a nurse practitioner who operates a health clinic in town.
TAMI WILKES: Some water got into our building. We were expecting a much higher surge, so we're actually quite lucky. So we're - now we just have to hose everything out, clean everything up and get ready to open back up for the patients.
ALLEN: Idalia made landfall nearly 90 miles north of here. A direct hit, Wilkes says, could have wiped out the town. Greg Allen, NPR News, Cedar Key, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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