Suwannee Valley Times is distributed into the following cities and towns: Lake City, Live Oak, Madison, Branford, Dowling Park, Falmouth, Lee, Wellborn, Jasper, White Springs, Fort White, High Springs and Alachua

Hurricane Idalia – Recovery (with corrections)

Above: A house in Riverwood Subdivision at Advent Christian Village. Dowling Park was reported as being the worst area hit in Suwannee County by Hurricane Idalia. -Photo: Lee McGauley

By Tami Stevenson

The National Guard, Red Cross and other disaster response teams and volunteers pushed their way into Florida in the wake of Hurricane Idalia. Some would say they had to “cut” their way in to Florida as

nearly every roadway had downed power lines and countless trees blocking their path from Madison, Taylor, Dixie, Suwannee, Columbia and Hamilton Counties before the hurricane headed into Georgia.

Power lines and downed trees were on virtually every road in Suwannee County. This photo was taken along 185th Street in Live Oak near Falmouth. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

Idalia made landfall as a category 3 hurricane near Keaton Beach, on August 30, at 7:45 a.m., with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph. It was moving around 20 mph when it made landfall, which didn’t give the massive storm time to slow down before it tore its way through Florida, maintaining a maximum sustained wind of 90 mph by the time it hit Georgia. It left unprecedented damage in the wake of its path for this northern rural area of Florida, which is known for its huge Live Oaks and large forests, which were devastated. It destroyed many homes, barns, chicken houses, etc. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, there were four deaths related to Idalia, one each in Alachua, Brevard, Dixie and Pasco Counties.

Nearly every road in Suwannee County had scenes like this after Hurricane Idalia. This photo was taken on 96th Street. -SVT Photo

Suwannee County EOC Director, Sheriff Sam St. John, said this storm was unprecedented for our area, at least for anyone living today. “The Dowling Park area was the hardest hit in Suwannee County,” said St. John.
Hurricane Dora came through on August 28, in 1964 and caused massive flooding, but did not have the wind associated with Idalia.

Advent Christian Village (ACV) is a retirement community in Dowling Park and was hit hard. Suwannee Valley Electric was able to get the assisted living facilities power early on after the storm.

Darleen Hinrichs, Senior Director for Resource Development at ACV said, “I believe, in the county, the top priority in emergency situations like this is the hospital (in Live Oak) and Advent Christian Village is number two (at least the main buildings).” She added, “Suwannee Valley Electric has worked very, very hard. There were some areas of damage that prevented certain areas being turned on because the damage was too severe and she believed that was the case in Riverwood Subdivision, which has approximately 135 homes within the ACV campus. It was seven days before they received power, along with many others in the county." Hinrichs added that today, the entire campus has power except in areas where the damage is too severe. CORRECTION - (AUTHOR INPUT - as some houses had trees crash through).

She also added ACV has an emergency information phone line that was updated at least once per day so residents could call that number and be updated, as their land lines remained in working order.

The Village Square at ACV is hardly recognizable. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

“We are so grateful for all the agencies that came in.The National Guard was incredible with what they did and they were part of handing out supplies to residents. They came through and helped with getting the roads cleaned, cutting the trees. The Red Cross was here. The county officials were just so incredibly responsive. We’re really grateful for the support we received,” said Hinrichs. “Everyone on the emergency management team did an outstanding job under some amazingly difficult circumstances. You never know everything ahead of time. I don’t believe they could have done a better job with the information they had.”

Lee McGauley, a Riverwood Subdivision resident, said he and his wife helped cook and deliver meals to other residents in the subdivision that could not get around, and looked for ways to help in any way they could. He said a few days before the storm they obtained 80 cases of water and handed them out to people in the subdivision.

At the main dining hall at ACV, according to Darleen Hinrichs, they offered hot meals at half price, while the National Guard handed out water, tarps, MRE’s and other supplies next to Lake Aquilla, until they ran out of supplies.

First Baptist Church of Dowling Park, Pastor Shawn Johnson and volunteers still found ways to help serve the community. -Photo: Lee McGauley

The Dowling Park Church of God and First Baptist Church stepped up to the plate with volunteers offering the EOC supplies to those in need. Other volunteers offered hot meals there and even a portable facility to wash clothes!

Operation BBQ Relief was setup at the Dowling Park Church of God and prepared and provided approximately 2400 hot meals per day. There are so many other humanitarian events too numerous to write for this article. Many residents are thanking God they are alive and have a roof over their heads.

Volunteers from the Church of God in Dowling Park rallied behind Sr. Pastor Mike Carson (back right) and went above and beyond to tirelessly serve those in need. -Photo: Lee McGauley


Operation BBQ Relief was setup at the Dowling Park Church of God. They prepared and provided approximately 2400 hot meals per day. Pictured are Kenny Alexander, left, with Brian Randolph.
-Photo: Lee McGauley

“Everyone that had a part in the recovery, the planning, the logistics did a great job,” said McGauley. “We have so many that came from out of town and out of state stay to help with the mess. The response we got, not ever having this before – it went as well as it possibly could have. Everybody stepped up to the plate. The lack of communication makes people upset, but I think everybody did an excellent job and this will be a learning experience for all of us.”


Another dwelling in Riverwood Subdivision that sustained catastrophic damage when a tree fell through their home as a result of Hurricane Idalia. -Photo: Lee McGauley

Although FEMA has its course of action to help, they will not, for example, help you clear trees out of your yard, but there are volunteer organizations that may be able to help with things like that. One such organization is a veteran-led organization called TEAM RUBICON. Their volunteers are here to help. Rubicon works through collaboration with local and state agencies, so contact your local EOC or sheriff’s office if you need assistance FEMA or other organizations cannot provide.

According to Team Rubicon’s website, they plan to stay in the North Florida area through mid-October.

Sheriff St. John said now they are basically picking up the pieces from the storm. “There is a lot of paperwork for us to try and get reimbursed for all that we spent, the fire department spent and the county spent on the storm.” He added, “It’s our job here at the EOC to make sure the paperwork is done properly so everyone can be reimbursed.” He added they now have a contract with the state to come along and take the debris lined up along the roads in Suwannee County.

Everyone involved with this article would like to say a special “Thank You” to Suwannee Valley Electric Coop, Clay Electric Coop, Duke Energy and Tri-County electric Coop for their tireless dedication and resolve in restoring power as soon as humanly possible to the North Florida area and all of the other organizations and volunteers that have and are - tirelessly working to help with the recovery process.

CORRECTION! This house was captioned as being in the Riverwood Subdivision at ACV. That was incorrect. This home was in Suwannee County. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.  -Photo: Lee McGauley


The aftermath of Hurricane Idalia left many side roads completely impassible. This photo was taken along 104th Street near Dowling Park. -Photo by Lee McGauley