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Floods, fires, funnel clouds top Citrus stories for 1998

This subdivision in northeast Citrus County doesn't make headlines often. But the area was in the news quite a bit during 1998.

The reason: weather.

About 200 Arrowhead homes were affected by historic levels of rain, and the accompanying flooding, during late 1997 and early 1998.

Authorities told residents to boil their water, and also recommended evacuation in some hard-hit areas; meanwhile, boat traffic on parts of the Withlacoochee River was halted for months to keep wakes from invading already flooded properties.

The rain and flooding also led to severe damage of Arrowhead roads. That destruction sparked a protracted battle between many residents and the County Commission concerning what relief government is allowed to provide in unrecorded subdivisions such as Arrowhead.

The weather trouble wasn't just felt in Arrowhead, however. Throughout Citrus County, the weather _ from rain to heat to tornadoes _ turned out to be the top story of 1998.

In Arrowhead, the rain and rising levels of the Withlacoochee were on everyone's mind early in the year. Experts said the flooding and river levels were registering at marks that had not been seen in several decades.

Many residents were distressed to learn that the county, by law, could not fix roads in unrecorded subdivisions because those roads are considered private. But when a state Attorney General's ruling indicated state law allowed local governments to spend public tax dollars in unrecorded subdivisions during emergencies, the County Commission eventually agreed to provide some aid, such as making surplus culverts and 50,000 cubic yards of dirt available to help Arrowhead. Federal disaster aid also was available for some.

Hot, dry weather was the story of spring and summer. The county imposed a ban on personal fireworks because conditions were so dry. People with breathing difficulties found the ozone levels and air quality almost unbearable.

Somehow, the extensive brush fires that spread throughout Florida did not significantly affect Citrus. That in and of itself was news.

According to the state division of forestry, about 99 acres were burned as a result of 22 brush fires between June 1 and early July. Most of the fires were attributed to lightning strikes.

Most of the brush fires were less than 5 acres. The largest fire, started by lightning on June 22, burned 35 acres near Holder.

Despite this relatively small amount of damage, the county still qualified for federal disaster aid _ just as it had for the flood and rain damage earlier in the year.

In early September, there was more weather-related damage in the news.

The eastern edge of Hurricane Earl swamped coastal areas and brewed tornadoes and high winds. One tornado destroyed eight homes and damaged 32 others in Citronelle.

Later in the month, Hurricane Georges appeared headed toward the Citrus coast. Emergency managers were on full alert, and 30 coastal residents evacuated to a shelter.

But the storm went north and west, slamming into the Panhandle.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.

SEPT. 3, 1998: Brenda Baldwin takes a moment to gain her composure outside her roofless mobile home near Dunnellon. The home was damaged and a barn destroyed by storms that were part of Hurricane Earl.

JAN. 20, 1998: Rick Carlson uses sandbags to reinforce a block wall he built around his home in the Arrowhead subdivision. Carlson, a mason, installed pumps behind the block wall to battle flood waters. JAN. 9, 1998: Sophia Culver walks on the railing of her great-uncle's dock along the Withlacoochee River in Arrowhead, while her grandfather, Chuck Johnson, trudges through calf-deep water.

SEPT. 26, 1998: T.J. Jones, Teri Kimbler and George Maura, left to right, load items into a car after the American Red Cross closed its shelter at Lecanto High School. They were the last to leave the shelter after the threat from Hurricane Georges passed.

JULY 2, 1998: Joe Gocsik, a timber forester with the state forestry department, watches for signs of fire from a tower along U.S. 19 near Inverness. Wild fires around Florida resulted in special precautions.

JUNE 27, 1998: Lisa Ferraina examines the remains of a screened enclosure that was destroyed by an afternoon thunderstorm that ripped through central Citrus County. The storm damaged several homes in Citrus Hills.

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