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Outages reduced as floods threaten

Power companies continued restoring service to customers throughout Citrus on Tuesday, and damage assessment crews began filing preliminary post-Jeanne reports. Meantime, residents in Arrowhead and other neighborhoods along the Withlacoochee River watched anxiously as the waterway rose to dangerously high levels.

On Tuesday, just more than 6,000 Citrus customers were without electric service. The latest available numbers showed 3,485 Progress Energy customers, 1,298 from Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative and 1,289 from Sumter Electric Cooperative still waiting for restoration.

In unincorporated Citrus, according to early reports, 45 homes sustained minor damage during Jeanne, 58 sustained major damage and 38 were destroyed _ most from water damage.

Fourteen businesses in the county sustained minor damage, three suffered major damage and one was destroyed.

The main courthouse suffered some roof leaks and its air conditioning system was damaged. The building closed for repairs on Tuesday, so the County Commission meeting was moved to the Lecanto Government Building.

Damage reports from Crystal River haven't surfaced yet, but county officials said the city of Inverness reported 11 homes and four businesses sustained minor damage and two businesses were destroyed.

Twenty county teams continued assessment work Tuesday, putting the county's regular building inspections and services on hold.

While residents continue to clean up after Jeanne, the county contractor, Asplundh Environmental Services Inc. of Alabama, began touring every county and Inverness street, picking up residents' and businesses' debris piles at no charge.

The company's trucks will revisit every county and city block that they passed before Jeanne, county spokeswoman Jessica Sanderson said. Workers also will visit every street they haven't yet passed.

In Crystal River, crews from Waste Management Inc. will be back this weekend between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., ready to cart away debris from Frances and Jeanne, City Manager Susan Boyer said. Anyone who has storm debris should stack it at the curbside by Friday.

After the weekend, she said, city sanitation crews will return to the normal weekday vegetative debris and yard waste pickup schedule.

As for Arrowhead, county commissioners on Tuesday received a grim forecast of flooding that could reach unprecedented levels.

Many homes are underwater already, and Public Safety director Charles Poliseno said the Withlacoochee could crest as high as 12.5 feet above normal as early as Monday or Tuesday. Homes along the river flood at 9.5 feet.

The river last reached levels as high as Poliseno's predictions in 1960, when it crested at 13.28 feet; and in 1930, when it rose to 12.6 feet and 11.7 feet. "We're going to see some history in the making," Poliseno said.

County Administrator Richard Wesch and Poliseno flew over the Withlacoochee River basin Monday with sheriff's officials and later gave commissioners a report, showing pictures of homes surrounded by water.

They also showed pictures of county bridges on the Withlacoochee _ at State Road 44 E and County Road 48 _ that are less than 3 feet from being breached by water.

Sheriff Jeff Dawsy has asked the Florida Department of Transportation to inspect the bridges to make sure they are structurally sound, County Commission Chairman Josh Wooten said.

Roads into Arrowhead neighborhoods already besieged by water have been closed by the sheriff, evacuations have been ordered, and commissioners formalized their order closing the river to boat traffic.

Some people believe the opening of a flood-control structure south of Arrowhead, in the Tsala Apopka Lake Chain, by the Southwest Florida Water Management District is increasing the flow of the north-flowing Withlacoochee, Poliseno said. But the opening of flood gates makes no difference, as water at the structure is already overflowing over the banks of an outfall canal and into the Withlacoochee, he said.

Poliseno warned that Arrowhead is not the only neighborhood affected by the river: Istachatta, the Sherwood Forest Community and homes along Boy Scout and Trails End roads also are threatened.

In other storm news:

Emergency supplies of water and ice for storm-stricken residents and those experiencing flooding have finally arrived after a day of delay.

"But it hasn't been a smooth process getting them here," Poliseno said.

"Nor was it in the last storm," said Wooten, who had criticized the state for its efforts during Frances.

Shelters, food, water, ice, mosquito repellent as well as helicopter spraying will be needed "long term" for evacuees of the flooding, he added.