STEINHATCHEE — Daniel Dickert had gotten as far through the floodwaters as he figured he could make it in his truck, so he got out and waded.
The Steinhatchee River was still rippling around waterfront homes a couple hours after Hurricane Idalia knifed inland through the Big Bend, a rural sliver that prides itself as “Old Florida” — and that hadn’t taken such a devastating blow for more than a century.
“I’ve never seen the water so high,” said Dickert, 54.
It was dark and choppy, splashing his thighs as he moved through a yard to get a good glimpse of his house across the river. Behind him, a black Bible floated from the First Baptist Church up the road. In shorts and sneakers, Dickert couldn’t see where he was stepping.
He’d plunged his Ford pickup through 3 feet of water to get out there about 9:30 a.m., eager to check in after he’d ridden out Idalia further inland at his mother’s house in Cross City. A lot of residents around Steinhatchee, he said, had left as the forecast turned more dire.
“I got smarter as I got older,” he said.
Hurricane Hermine, in 2016, had put more than a foot of water in his shed. The Storm of the Century in 1993 had whipped up a flood of 5 feet.
This one, Dickert said, was worse.
He plowed through Idalia’s surge until he passed a shuttered house at the far bank. Across the way, his pink home towered over the surf, safe on 12-foot pilings. One of his boats was perched on a lift above the chop.
Dickert called his wife. Steinhatchee was a mess, docks crumpled and sailboats thrown ashore. But their place was okay, he told her.
“It wasn’t bad as I thought,” he said.
Wind from the backside of the storm shook the palms. Dickert climbed to the second-story deck of a house to get a better — and drier — vantage. An aluminum storm shutter clattered against the doors. A set of wind chimes, somehow still hanging, pinged endlessly.
Out on the river, a man popped out of the cabin on a sailboat. A fishing captain steered his boat into the wind, kicking up a plume of smoke from the engine.
Dickert knew the man, so he called from the deck. The captain said he had fled to the boat from a fish house when the surge got too high. By 10 a.m., he told Dickert, it had dropped about 5 feet.
Around the corner, at the Sea Hag Marina, a couple of people stood at a bend in the road, just out of the flood. Mud flecked their ankles.
Zach Bunkley, a 22-year-old charter captain, said he’d stayed at a house on high ground near the marina with friends. About 7 a.m., the surge kicked up — seemingly “out of nowhere.”
“We were just sitting there watching the marina get pummeled the whole time,” he said.
No one kept track of the time or how long the water stayed high. During Hermine, Bunkley recalled, the flood hit halfway up the door at the marina. Idalia’s surge reached the top, almost to the roof of an overhang on the first floor.
“This was the worst storm I’ve been alive to see down here,” Bunkley said. In the middle of the river, waves broke as high as 4 feet.
Beside him, Oscar Garcia, 52, looked over the marina where he has a job in maintenance.
“A lot of work now,” he said.
Another high tide was hours away.