TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist asked President Barack Obama on Friday for federal aid to remove debris and repair roads, bridges and other public property in 11 North Florida counties ravaged by storms and floodwaters but noted he'll likely expand the request because the flooding isn't over.
In a letter to the president, Crist also asked for hazard mitigation grants for the entire state and direct federal assistance to save lives and property where needed, including flood plain mapping assistance, swift water rescue support and food and water for flood victims.
A series of storms and overflowing rivers across Florida's northern tier has produced record and near-record floods over the past two weeks, matching or topping those caused by Tropical Storm Fay in the same region in August.
"Altogether, these series of severe weather systems has resulted in the second major disaster to hit North Florida in the last 12 months," Crist wrote.
The governor indicated damage to public property is expected to top the $20.9 million threshold needed to qualify for federal public assistance in the 11 counties: Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Liberty, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Washington.
Those counties, all in the Panhandle, are among 26 in North Florida where Crist has declared a state of emergency.
Swollen rivers flowing into the state from Alabama and Georgia have since gone down in the Panhandle but farther east they remain over their banks or are still rising.
East of Tallahassee, the Withlacoochee River this week crested just below the Florida-Georgia border at 2.7 feet above its prior record and the Alapha River flowing into Hamilton County also topped its previous high point by more than 2 feet. Both broke records set in 1948, Crist wrote in the letter to Obama.
The Suwannee River is forecast to crest Sunday near Ellaville at its second-highest level on record. Farther downstream next week, the Suwannee is threatening to inundate a large assisted living facility that was flooded in 1973 when the river rose to about the same level.
The Santa Fe River is expected to cause major damage to homes when it crests Saturday above major flood level at Three Rivers Estates in Suwannee County.
Assessments done so far, mostly in the Panhandle, have counted nearly 200 homes destroyed or with major damage and more than 500 with minor damage. No dollar estimates have been made for damage to private property.
The deaths of two motorists, both in the Panhandle's Okaloosa County, have been attributed to the flooding. An elderly man who was swept away while trying to wade through Withlacoochee flood waters in Madison County was still missing.
Officials reported 24 bridges and 240 roads were closed including U.S. 90 at the Suwannee River. Interstate 10, the major east-west route across North Florida, remained open.