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Flooding coverage fees may go down

With the entire county predicted to have power within two days and shelters cleared of evacuees, the worst of Jeanne is over for most residents, except for those still without electricity and those confronted by rising lakes and rivers.

Mary Triplett has lived in Central Florida all her 48 years and called Talisman Estates on the Withlacoochee River home for the past 12.

While gripping a box of free Salvation Army meals at the Ridge Manor Community Center on Wednesday, Triplett expressed amazement at how the river was acting up.

"I have driven these roads since I was knee high to a grasshopper," Triplett said. "I have never seen it flood this bad. If we get another hurricane or two this year, I'm leaving."

The National Weather Service predicts major flooding to continue in the area, with the Withlacoochee hitting 5{ feet above flood stage Oct. 10. If that mark is met, the river will easily exceed its 1998 levels, which caused the worst flooding in recent memory.

While not a solution to the immediate needs of residents whose living room furniture is now afloat, county officials announced Wednesday that residents such as Triplett might soon be eligible to pay less for flood insurance due to Hernando's public information and mitigation efforts.

Nearly a third of the county _ some 86,938 of its 314,000 acres _ are designated as flood zones by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Mortgagees in these areas, mostly along the coast and the Withlacoochee, are required to protect their property against flood damage.

Through the National Flood Insurance Program, the federal government backs policies in these areas issued by private insurers.

Under the NFIP, participating governments such as Hernando are rated on how well they plan for and respond to floods. Right now, the county is an 8, which means residents get a 10 percent reduction on their flood insurance premiums.

Thanks to a concerted effort by the county, which has included tougher building standards, sending out flood awareness information with tax bills and other education campaigns, the county has been given tentative approval for a rating of 7, which will allow residents to get a 15 percent reduction in their premiums when they renew policies.

Final approval is expected in two weeks.

What those in flood zones pay for insurance varies based on risk and the level of protection purchased. County NFIP coordinator David Millendorf said it can run between $2,000 to $4,000 a year for homeowners.

Millendorf, also a mitigation and recovery specialist for Emergency Management, said about 4,000 county residents have federally backed flood insurance.

The county, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and FEMA are now revising Hernando's flood maps. When the project is completed a year from now, the maps are expected to include now-exempt areas such as Bystre Lake, meaning the new rating comes at a good time for residents.

"There are going to be a lot more people who are going to have to get flood insurance," said county flood plain manager Gary Fisher, who is also a zoning administrator and permit manager for the Development Department.

As good as the news of the new rating is, those in Hernando still without power continue to seek more immediate relief.

The temperatures in Dennis Godbey's Brooksville trailer have been too much for his 6-month-old daughter Kassidy. So Godbey, 29, has taken to visiting air-conditioned stores with the infant to give her a break.

Godbey, young Kassidy, his 4-year-old daughter and his wife were also at the Ridge Manor Community Center on Wednesday for the free Salvation Army meals. The family relies on public assistance, and Godbey said he has wasted his food stamps on refrigerated goods that have had to be tossed.

"We lost everything," he said.

As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, the number of Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative customers without power was 1,386, down from 3,099 the night before. All Withlacoochee customers are to have power returned by midnight tonight.

As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, Progress Energy Florida had 2,549 customers without power. Company spokesperson Deborah Shipley vowed to have electricity restored by midnight Friday.

"By then we should have the last light on," she said.

Will Van Sant can be reached at (352) 754-6127 or vansantsptimes.com.

Glen Farnham, 76, walked to the Nobleton boat ramp Wednesday to check the latest flood mark at the park across the street from his house. Farnham says he has seen several fish kills during the flooding. Before he left, scientists with the Southwest Florida Water Management District stopped by to measure the dissolved oxygen content and other conditions in the river. Decomposing vegetation has lowered the dissolved oxygen, causing fish to die.

JEANNE'S AFTERMATH

Meals, showers available

The Salvation Army will serve hot meals at Ridge Manor Community Center from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Port-O-Lets are also available for residents at the Ridge Manor Community Center. The Salvation Army has a shower unit open at its facility at 15464 Cortez Blvd. from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Friday. Residents are asked to bring their own towels and toiletries.

Brooksville shelter closed

The shelter at First United Methodist Church, 109 S Broad St., Brooksville, has been closed, the American Red Cross says. Those who sustained damage to their homes may call the Red Cross toll-free at 1-866-438-4636. Red Cross assistance can include temporary lodging, food, clothing, replacement medication, mental health counseling and other assistance. Individuals interested in volunteering with the Red Cross can call toll-free 1-866-245-9180, ext. 126.

Blood donors sought

LifeSouth Community Blood Centers has announced that due to Hurricane Jeanne, an already low blood supply has been further reduced because of closed donor centers and canceled blood drives. LifeSouth asks all eligible residents to make donating blood part of their hurricane recovery plan. Platelet donations are most needed. Blood donors must be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 103 pounds and have photo identification. For information, call 596-2002. The local LifeSouth, 12395 Cortez Blvd., Spring Hill, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. The center's bloodmobile will be at the following locations:

Today _ 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Metal Industries, 400 Walker Road, Bushnell.

Friday _ 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Winn-Dixie, 1230 Broad St., Brooksville.

Saturday _ 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Pizza Hut, 3003 Commercial Way, Spring Hill.

Sunday _ 2 to 6 p.m., Pizza Hut, Broad Street, Brooksville.

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