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Work begins on storm recovery, relief

Published Aug. 28, 2005

Citrus residents awoke to sunshine Monday. Although clouds and stiff breezes rolled into the county in the late morning hours, Jeanne's fury had passed, leaving the officials and residents to pick up after it.

"What happens from here is the recovery side," sheriff's Capt. Joe Eckstein said during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Lecanto.

Jeanne brought several inches of rain and strong winds reaching more than 60 mph, and water damage remained the biggest concern. Reports of flooding from Arrowhead in northeast Citrus to Old Homosassa and Chassahowitzka on the west side poured into the emergency center. The water in these areas won't reach its highest levels until Thursday or Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

Officials closed the Withlacoochee River to boats, trying to limit the damage to homes along the water, which is expected to rise to 10 feet by Friday. Boats' wakes can add to home damage because water is pushed into homes. The Sheriff's Office will continue to patrol the river to enforce the order.

Two sandbag sites remained open in east Citrus, as did two shelters for people flooded out of their homes or otherwise struggling from the storm. The shelters are at Riverside Christian Fellowship, 7771 N Carl G. Rose Highway (State Road 200), and the East Citrus Community Center on East Gulf to Bay Highway. Another shelter at First United Methodist Church on Marvin Street in Floral City opened Monday evening.

A boil water order was issued for Arrowhead. People with well water also are urged to boil their water if it has an odd color or smell. If questions about the water still remain, bring a sample to the Citrus County Health Department for testing.

Power outages also continued. About 24,000 customers remained without power Monday. Crews worked from the early morning to night, trying to restore power to lines and lift stations.

Power was restored to Inverness City Hall by noon. All city offices are open, and Whispering Pines park facility will open at 11 a.m. today, City Manager Frank DiGiovanni said.

Crystal River government offices suffered little damage during the storm, officials said.

County government will be open today. Power problems continued at the courthouse Monday evening, but officials said the problems didn't affect the entire building. The Department of Development Services, meanwhile, will continue to send its employees out to assess damage, so it won't be able to handle other concerns.

"It's going to be hard to get a building permit tomorrow," Wooten said during an appearance on WYKE television.

Food, water and ice from federal and state agencies were slow to arrive. After confusing reports from the state, officials worried that no trucks would arrive in Citrus on Monday. The delay fueled already boiling tempers among county officials, including Sheriff Jeff Dawsy, County Commission Chairman Josh Wooten and Eckstein.

"I'm highly ticked off," Eckstein said.

MREs, pre-made meals, arrived Monday afternoon, as did four trucks carrying ice. More trucks with ice and water were expected.

The Sheriff's Office canteen operated out of Homosassa yesterday, serving food. The Salvation Army canteen served both lunch and dinner at the county fairgrounds.

Bureacratic red tape will slow the Red Cross response for the county, said Rex Young, the county's Red Cross emergency services specialist.

"Because of the scope, it's going to be a little slower," Young said.

Officials said they'll seek help from the private sector for relief if they can't get aid from the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Citrus is in a tough spot this time around, Eckstein said. The county doesn't have the extensive damage of Polk County and others, but its elderly population and low-lying areas need attention and resources. The county's damage is bad, Eckstein said, but not bad enough to guarantee quick aid from SERT _ State Emergency Response Team _ and FEMA.

The sounds of chain saws growled from streets as residents and workers cleared brush and tree limbs from roads and lawns Monday. Most of the vegetative debris in Inverness and Crystal River were small limbs or brush that hadn't been picked up after Frances, officials from both cities said. They speculated that most of the larger debris came down during Frances, clearing out the dead limbs before Jeanne came through.

County crews worked on damage assessments. County Administrator Richard Wesch flew over the county in a helicopter, to survey flooding and damaged homes. By Monday afternoon, officials reported eight homes destroyed, eight with major damage and one with minor damage.

Social services _ now on their fourth wave of hurricane wave duty _ are struggling to bring relief to residents.

"The Red Cross is tapped out in resources," Eckstein said. "We're still waiting to find out if they'll be able to assist us."

School officials decided to open school today after workers completed a campus-by-campus damage assessment.

Early in the day, some schools had problems with telephone and electricity. Some had leaks and tree damage, but not enough to keep school closed, according to Ed Murphy, the district's risk manager.

Central Florida Community College also will re-open.

Debris pickup will begin soon, Wooten said. For those who want to transport their own debris, the Maylen Avenue alternate landfill site is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The charge for storm-related debris will be waived.

Wooten repeated several times that he's praying the county won't see another disaster any time soon.

"Maybe we can at least have two or three weeks before the next one," he said.

Distribution sites will open today

The county late Monday announced it will open five distribution sites at 6 a.m. today. They will provide water, ice and prepared meals, and will remain open as long as supplies last. The locations are:

Stokes Ferry Road and Palm Oaks Drive, Hernando.

Old fire station just east of U.S. 41 S, Floral City.

Citrus County Fairgrounds, U.S. 41 S at the airport, Inverness.

Christian Center Church, Green Acres Street at U.S. 19.

Citrus County Chronicle building in Meadowcrest, Crystal River.

Times staff writers Barbara Behrendt and Justin George contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 860-7312 or by email at