Thursday updates: Florida reports first hurricane-related death after Idalia

In the Tampa Bay area, which may have seen record storm surge, the focus has shifted to recovery and cleanup.
Sam Caudle, 33, of New Port Richey, attempts to dry the floor of the home he owns in Tarpon Springs after it flooded due to Hurricane Idalia on Wednesday.
Sam Caudle, 33, of New Port Richey, attempts to dry the floor of the home he owns in Tarpon Springs after it flooded due to Hurricane Idalia on Wednesday. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Aug. 31|Updated Sept. 1

Our live updates for Thursday have concluded.

After tearing through Florida’s Big Bend region as a Category 3 Hurricane, by Wednesday night Idalia was downgraded to a tropical storm as it reached South Carolina.

The full scope of the damage Idalia caused in Florida remains unknown. More than 200,000 homes were left without power.

As of Wednesday night, search and rescue teams had yet to find anyone dead in their homes, and there were no outstanding missing persons reports. But Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said search and rescue may take longer than it did after Ian because the Big Bend area is more rural than Fort Myers.

Thursday evening, Florida officials announced there was one death in the state that is being attributed to Idalia, according to reports.

In the Tampa Bay region, the focus has shifted to recovery and cleanup. The area may have seen record storm surge, leaving neighborhoods like Shore Acres in St. Petersburg and the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs submerged in water.

Here’s the latest:

9:01 p.m. Hillsborough County reopens facilities

Hillsborough County officials say its facilities are reopening and returning to normal business hours.

“The facilities set to reopen include libraries, parks, nature preserves, and boat ramps and will welcome residents on Friday,” the county said in a news release Thursday night.

The county did note one exception. Storm surge from Hurricane Idalia caused the Alafia River to crest, so “the springs and the canoe and kayak launch at Lithia Springs will remain closed.”

Hillsborough officials say 71,185 sandbags were provided to residents and 1,414 rode out Idalia in one of its shelters.

8:09 p.m. Florida’s first hurricane-related death reported

Florida officials said there was one hurricane-related death in the Gainesville area, but didn’t release any details. The state’s highway patrol reported earlier that two people were killed in separate weather-related crashes just hours before Idalia made landfall. — Associated Press

6:15 p.m. Shore Acres residents battle fatigue in face of flooding

Sara Eve Schaeffer sat atop her kitchen counter with her dog, Delly, on Wednesday listening to the electrical currents from her appliances pop and spark as the water rose below in her Shore Acres home.

A day later, there was still standing water in her daughter’s bedroom, the pink walls crinkled above the baseboards. Schaeffer worried parts of the rainbow mural she painted in 6-year-old Claire’s room would wash away.

As the floodwaters from Hurricane Idalia invaded her home, Schaeffer used her daughter’s erasable Crayola to draw a high water mark: 5 inches.

Schaeffer, 42, had sent her daughter to her father’s house Tuesday to shield her from Idalia’s wake.

“She hasn’t seen it yet,” Schaeffer said, holding back sobs. “I don’t want her to have trauma memories.”

Schaeffer’s house is one of hundreds across the neighborhood of about 12,000 homes that endured disastrous flooding from Idalia. Though Shore Acres frequently floods, even on sunny days and during typical rain storms, residents described this flooding as generational; some said they hadn’t seen anything like it since Hurricane Elena in 1985.

Read more here.

— Jack Prator, Colleen Wright and Max Chesnes

6 p.m. Port Tampa Bay reopens

Port Tampa Bay resumed all vessel operations early Thursday evening, officially re-opening its shipping channels. During Idalia, the port’s landside operations remained open “to ensure the smooth and steady delivery of fuel to residents and visitors of the state,” according to spokesperson Lisa Wolf-Chason. Port Tampa Bay supplies nearly half of Florida’s gas, fuel, and petroleum supply.

The Carnival Paradise and the Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas will return to the port’s cruise terminals Friday, Wolf-Chason said.

— Olivia George

4:30 p.m. In St. Petersburg’s Riviera Bay, residents wade through storm’s aftermath

On 89th Avenue NE in Riviera Bay, Tony Kreger tossed a piece of floorboard into the back of a trailer, already full of baseboard and flooring that had to be torn up after the storm.

He had come this way around 11 a.m. Thursday to help friends who live along the water empty their home of ruined possessions due to flooding from Hurricane Idalia. By 4 p.m., puddles of water still coated much of the floor of the home.

Earlier in the morning, Kreger, who was born and raised in St. Petersburg, had gone to Shore Acres where his brother lives, expecting disaster.

To their surprise, the house was completely untouched.

“It was one of about three in the whole neighborhood that made it out alright,” Kreger said. “He thought his house was done during the storm. He had already started working on lining up housing for the next three or four months. We were both surprised.”

Related: How to help Hurricane Idalia victims, or get assistance if you need it

In Riviera Bay, his friends weren’t so lucky. They filled a U-Haul truck with waterlogged belongings.

“You just feel awful for people,” Kreger said. “It seems like these storms are coming more often and getting worse.”

Four houses up, Rosanne Thomson stood in her backyard, taking a break from cleanup.

Thomson, originally from Wisconsin, had moved to the neighborhood in 1985. She was trying to remember how many times her house had flooded since then.

“There was Hurricane Elena the year we moved here. That was about 18 inches in the house,” Thomson shrugged. “It was a nice welcome present.”

Related: 6 Tampa Bay homes caught fire after Idalia. Why flooding may be to blame.

Since then, she figures water has come in at least four other times.

“What have I learned? Well, I stopped putting down carpet,” she laughed.

At the house next door, 22-year-old J.T. Creadon had just finished lifting another shovel of debris into a garbage can.

“Hey J.T., how’s your cleanup going?” Thomson asked.

Sopping carpets laid heavy in the driveway. Recliners and blankets and other household goods, too.

“It’s going,” Creadon replied.

His grandparents had lived in this house since the ‘50s. Flooding was familiar to them, too.

And as the oldest grandchild, Creadon was used to being put to work.

“I’m always the one doing cleanup,” he said.

— Lauren Peace

3:10 p.m. Hernando County lifts evacuation orders

Hernando County has lifted the mandatory evacuation orders for evacuation zones A, B and C and for coastal areas, low-lying areas and manufactured homes.

Officials urged residents to take caution when returning to their homes and said damage assessment crews are still working in the county.

To report damage, debris or downed trees, call the county’s Public Information Center at 352-754-4083.

— Tony Marrero

2:45 p.m. Idalia victims can get federal grants, DeSantis says

Florida officials are encouraging victims of Hurricane Idalia to apply for federal grant money to elevate their homes to be more resistant to storm surge. President Joe Biden will visit the state Saturday, the New York Post reported.

Homes that were elevated were not inundated by Idalia’s storm surge, and homes with metal roofs stayed intact, Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said Thursday.

It’s further evidence that “mitigation works,” Guthrie said.

In the coming months and years, grant money will become available for victims to raise their homes off the ground if they haven’t already, he said. He encouraged homeowners to contact their local emergency managers about the federal program.

“It is one of the best programs that we have in our in our toolkit,” Guthrie said. “We’re going to try to make the mitigation fund bankrupt.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis touted the state’s enhanced building codes, which were redrawn after 1992′s Hurricane Andrew devastated parts of Miami-Dade County.

Last year, lawmakers created the My Safe Florida Home program to give homeowners free inspections and $10,000 grants to harden their homes.

“This stuff does work,” DeSantis said Thursday.

“You look at Horseshoe Beach, most of these homes are very outdated,” DeSantis said. “And so yeah, there was a lot of damage, but there was also homes that weathered it because of how they were built.

“So they got massive storm surge, but it all went underneath the living area and so they’re going to end up, their homes are going to be fine.”

So far, only one death has been linked to Idalia, a traffic crash in Alachua County, DeSantis said. Search and rescue teams have not found people deceased in their homes, unlike the aftermath of last year’s Hurricane Ian.

“I think part of that is because people really made good decisions, protected themselves,” he said. “Also, this forecast turned out to be accurate.”

— Lawrence Mower

2:19 p.m. Treasure Island says to avoid Sunset Beach

The city of Treasure Island is asking residents to avoid the Sunset Beach area as crews and residents work to restore the part of the city that was hardest-hit by Idalia. Sunset Beach parking is currently closed. Ka’Tiki and Caddy’s will remain open.

Related: In Pinellas beach towns, Idalia brings another soggy cleanup

“The residents need some time and they need some space to recover,” Treasure Island Police Chief John Barkley said in a video on the city’s Facebook page. “Please give them that time and that room. Our officers are going to be down there checking to make sure that people who are on Sunset Beach have a business and a reason to be there.”

Related: Hurricane Idalia spilled Sunset Beach’s sand through the streets
Aerials of Some of Treasure Island Post Idalia

City crews and staff are continuing the post-Idalia cleanup. This is an aerial view of some areas. This cleanup will take some time and we ask everyone to please be patient. Also, PLEASE do not come to sightsee in the Sunset Beach area. This is creating a problem for staff and cleanup crews.

Posted by The City of Treasure Island, Florida on Thursday, August 31, 2023

Natalie Weber

1:30 p.m. South Tampa residents evaluate storm damage

In affluent South Tampa neighborhoods near the bay, some residents were dealing with the aftermath of flooding Thursday.

In tall rain boots, Sharon Baker was armed with a heavy-duty rake clearing up a mass of debris and trash that she said boiled up from storm drains. The inches-thick brown muck that came up the driveway and pushed up against the garage doors of her 1924 house in Beach Park was smelly and full of trash, leaving a watermark across the garage doors.

Sharon Baker shovels muck brought in by flooding from the driveway of her home in South Tampa's Beach Park.
Sharon Baker shovels muck brought in by flooding from the driveway of her home in South Tampa's Beach Park. [ SUE CARLTON | Sue Carlton | Times ]

“I don’t know who will pick this up or how we’ll get rid of it,” said Baker, who is retired and has lived in the house since 2004. But, she added, “this is nothing. This is just cleanup. It could have been worse.”

Tampa lawyer Rick Terrana said there was so much flooding in Sunset Park where he lives in South Tampa near the bay that he was able to kayak most of the neighborhood to assess the damage after the storm. At big new homes still under construction he saw portable toilets floating, he said.

His garage “got wiped out” by flooding, Terrana said. He lost two refrigerators, a freezer and two safes that were supposed to be waterproof.

“They didn’t survive six inches of water for ten minutes,” he said.

The flooding was coming from the bay, Terrana said.

“You should see my backyard,” he said. “I’ve got pieces of boats, water bottles, fiberglass, you name it.”

Nothing in the neighborhood appeared to be wind damaged, Terrana said.

“But this water came in fast and furious,” he said. “We had whitecaps on the street.”

Sue Carlton

1:20 p.m. Shore Acres residents report “the worst flooding they’ve seen in a long time”

Kevin Batdorf has seen the neighborhood he’s called home since 1986 get flooded over and over again. He measures how high the water gets to his house by the watermark on the steps leading to his door.

But it was the sight of his neighbors riding in the back of a dump truck with a trash bag full of clothes that compel him to find solutions at the local, state and federal levels. He also saw two houses in flames because crews couldn’t get there due to flooded streets.

“The look on their faces,” Batdorf said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”

Related: Another home in St. Petersburg’s Shore Acres badly damaged by fire

Batdorf is the president of the Shore Acres Civic Association, the vocal neighborhood association representing almost 2,800 homes in one of the city’s most flood-prone areas and the neighborhood that is likely the hardest hit by Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall 125 miles away. It floods on a sunny day here, with king tide spilling over seawalls and into the streets, or coming through the sewer systems.

The neighborhood is concave like a bowl, where expensive waterfront homes are built higher and more protected while working-class homes in the middle are lower in elevation.

“The people who are hit by flooding are workforce housing,” he said.

The evacuees he saw on the back of the truck are among the 75 people who city officials say were rescued by St. Petersburg Fire Rescue in high-flood areas, spooked by the amount of storm surge entering their homes.

With over 400 repetitive claims losses for flooding in Shore Acres, Batdorf has an idea for a fix: One is creating a special tax district that could help people elevate their homes and payback the cost when they sell their homes. When enough homes are elevated, the city could raise up streets. It’s something he’s floated to state Rep. Lindsay Cross, D St. Petersburg, and Mayor Ken Welch.

“If the streets were 2 feet higher, we wouldn’t be driving through floodwater most of the time,” he said. “It’s going to take time but that’s the solution. Trying to keep the water out is not the solution.”

But in the interim, Batdorf saw two things the city could work on: Boats already staged at Shore Acres’ fire station for deployment, instead of offloading them on 40th Ave Northeast; and using the Shore Acres Recreation Center as a staging area, though the building is not hurricane rated.

In between fielding 1,000 requests to join the neighborhood’s Facebook groups and posts with questions about their homes and when they could return, Batdorf was on the phone with City Council member Ed Montanari.

Montanari on Thursday morning drove his white Ford pickup through Shore Acres, his family’s first home when they moved to the area in the 1970s. For every street still covered with water or much left over for 24 hours after Hurricane Idalia, Montanari would jot down the intersection to let city staff know to clean out a possibly clogged gutter or send out a street sweeper in a camouflage journal.

His district includes the areas most affected by Hurricane Idalia.

“I’ve heard from a lot of residents that this is the worst flooding they’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

He drove past several homes with “No Wake Zone” yard signs. He said the city has looked into an ordinance for slowing down traffic, but they’re preempted by the state to make a slower speed limit.

Colleen Wright

1 p.m. Indian Rocks Beach says some areas still closed

Due to “heavy erosion” caused by the hurricane, some beaches are still closed, the city of Indian Rocks Beach said in a Thursday press release. The city is working with Pinellas County to restore and repair the areas.

The city of Indian Rocks Beach has closed some beach access points due to erosion. Even open parts of the beach, like the area shown in the photo above, have experienced erosion due to the storm.
The city of Indian Rocks Beach has closed some beach access points due to erosion. Even open parts of the beach, like the area shown in the photo above, have experienced erosion due to the storm. [ ZACHARY T. SAMPSON | Zachary T. Sampson | Times ]

Non-accessible beach areas include entrances on Central Avenue, 1st Avenue, 2nd Avenue, 5th Avenue, 6th Avenue, 12th Avenue, 20th-26th Avenues and 28th Avenue.

The beaches can still be accessed from the Whitehurst Ramp, 3rd and 4th Avenues, 7th and 8th Avenues, 9th ramp, 10th Avenue, 15th-18th Avenues, 19th Ramp and the 27th Ramp.

Natalie Weber

12:30 p.m. More than 25 properties destroyed by Idalia, Pinellas County says

As of early Thursday afternoon, Pinellas County authorities had assessed 651 properties affected by Idalia, said Cathie Perkins, the county’s emergency management director.

27 properties were destroyed, and 23 suffered major damage. 265 more had minor damage.

The county has tallied more than 40 structure fires associated with the storm, she said. Some electric vehicles have also caught fire, she said, and those who own vehicles with lithium batteries that have come into contact with saltwater should move them away from their homes.

Perkins said those with damaged homes or businesses should report the damage at

Jack Evans

11:30 a.m. Pinellas director gives update on damage assessment and assistance efforts

Postal worker Richard Hart, 59, leaves mail at a home located along Doric Court as shelves and other items sit on the curb Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Tapron Springs.
Postal worker Richard Hart, 59, leaves mail at a home located along Doric Court as shelves and other items sit on the curb Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Tapron Springs. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Teams from local, state and federal agencies were fanning out in Pinellas County on Thursday to assess damage and get resources to people in need, county emergency management director Cathie Perkins said at morning news conference.

An initial assessment has found that hundreds of homes have been flooded, and some were inundated with as much as two feet of water. St. Petersburg’s Shore Acres and Riviera Bay neighborhoods were among the hardest hit, she said.

”Some people are still having water in their neighborhoods this morning,” Perkins said. “This flooding was worse than what we saw for Hurricane Eta a few years ago.”

Perkins provided some initial numbers on the storm:

  • More than 60 rescue missions helped hundreds of people from flooded areas.
  • Nearly 1,700 people including 187 with special needs took advantage of the 10 emergency shelters. They brought about 70 pets.
  • The county’s 911 center received more than 800 emergency calls between Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon.
  • Roughly 28,000 people were without power at the peak of the storm; about 2,600 homes were still without power as of Thursday morning.

People who could not immediately return home have been moved to the Lealman Exchange Community Center; the county served about 30 people in community centers on Wednesday night who were not able to return home.

Rich Heimann, 59, works to clear debris near his travel trailer at Bayshore Cove Mobile Home and RV Park Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Tapron Springs. Hermann said water did not get into his trailer but rose about a foot and half over the seawall.
Rich Heimann, 59, works to clear debris near his travel trailer at Bayshore Cove Mobile Home and RV Park Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Tapron Springs. Hermann said water did not get into his trailer but rose about a foot and half over the seawall. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Teams were also working to assess the extent of beach erosion caused by the storm, Perkins said.

Perkins urged people with damaged homes or businesses to document the damage with photos and videos before starting to clean up.

Document how high the water reached inside structures, which will help with claims and with broader research on the storm. Contact insurance companies and file a claim as soon as possible. Owners of electric vehicles that were flooded should not park them inside garages or close to structures because of the risk of spontaneous combustion, Perkins said.

She said officials have heard of at least one such incident.Citizens who need help cleaning up can call the Crisis Home Cleanup Hotline at 800-451-1954. The hotline will connect people with volunteers from local relief organizations, community groups and faith communities who can help cut fallen trees, remove damaged drywall, flooring and appliances, place tarps on roofs and assist with mold mitigation.

For more information on resources available, go to

— Tony Marrero

10:04 a.m. Flights resume at PIE

Flights are back at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport on Thursday, the airport announced in a press release.

The airport shut down Tuesday afternoon and reopened Wednesday at 3 p.m., but all Wednesday flights at PIE were canceled ahead of Idalia. Commercial flights resumed this morning.

For specific flight updates, travelers should check with their airlines.

— Bernadette Berdychowski

9:46 a.m. Big Bend region faces widespread power outages and ‘significant’ damage

About 40 rescue missions were successfully completed by officials related to Hurricane Idalia, Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Thursday.

Power had also been restored to more homes in the storm’s path. By 6 a.m. Thursday, about 146,000 homes were still without power, mostly concentrated in counties like Taylor, Madison, Levy and Dixie, DeSantis said.

DeSantis said damage to the Big Bend regions was “significant” and that the state had requested a major disaster declaration from the federal government for all 25 counties that were under a hurricane warning.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell joined DeSantis at the Tallahassee Emergency Operations Center Thursday morning, saying the federal government was committed to supporting the ongoing recovery effort.

Later today, DeSantis said he will travel to Cedar Key and Steinhatchee to see the damage there.

He applauded local officials for handling evacuation calls well. As of Thursday, there were no confirmed fatalities, which DeSantis said is not something most people would have bet on four to five days ago.

The Director of the Division of Emergency Management, Kevin Guthrie, asked people on Thursday clearing flooded homes and debris to separate the type of debris into piles, to help local officials and solid waste pickup. That includes a pile for furniture, a pile for muck, a pile for appliances, a pile for vegetation, etc.

If a home has been seriously flooded, people should make sure their electricity is off and they’re wearing proper safety equipment before entering their home, Guthrie said

— Romy Ellenbogen

8:45 a.m. What to do with storm debris in St. Petersburg

The city of St. Petersburg has released guidance for residents who have vegetative debris from Hurricane Idalia. The city is advising residents to place vegetative debris in trash cans or drop it off at one of the city’s brush sites.

Regular trash and recycling pickup resumes today.

— Tony Marrero

7 a.m. Waters receding, mess left behind in Tampa

At USF Park on the Tampa Riverwalk on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023, the USF bull statue is surrounded by muck and trash that had washed up over the Riverwalk from the Hillsborough River when Hurricane Idalia moved past the region.
At USF Park on the Tampa Riverwalk on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023, the USF bull statue is surrounded by muck and trash that had washed up over the Riverwalk from the Hillsborough River when Hurricane Idalia moved past the region. [ SUE CARLTON | Times ]

In downtown Tampa early Thursday, some intrepid runners braved the sodden Riverwalk, which was by now possible since the waters from the Hillsborough River had receded. But lights were off in many spots and brown piles of debris and trash that had washed up from the river made it slower going than on most workday mornings.

Curtis Hixon Park, which was flooded and not passible on foot Wednesday unless you wanted to wade through ankle deep water, was navigable again. Garbage cans were piled high, often with beer and wine bottles, likely from people who came out Wednesday after the storm.

— Sue Carlton

6:50 a.m. Idalia expected to move offshore

Forecasters from the National Hurricane Center said Idalia was about 70 miles south-southwest of Wilmington, N.C. and was speeding east-northeast at nearly 21 mph at a 5 a.m. update. The storm was still holding strong with maximum wind speeds of 60 mph.

It’s expected to move just offshore of the coast of North Carolina on Thursday, and then over the western Atlantic into the weekend.

Though the storm has weakened significantly since it made landfall in Taylor County on Wednesday, forecasters warned Idalia could cause flooding across coastal North Carolina on Thursday.

Read more here.

— Michaela Mulligan

• • •

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