Crews from Marion and neighboring counties are helping out after Hurricane Michael plows through northwest Florida.
Many Marion County volunteers, from firemen to food servers, traveled to the Panhandle late Wednesday and Thursday to help in the wake of Hurricane Michael.
• A team of Ocala Police Department officials were deployed to the Panhandle Wednesday, cutting and removing debris in roadways before arriving in Blountstown.
Officers left the police department parking lot with 12 vehicles, some of them police cruisers, shortly before 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.
What should have been a four and a half to five-hour trip to Calhoun County, ended up being a nine and a half hour ride, said Sgt. Matt Bos, one of officers on the trip. He described the area as "devastation."
"It's bad here. Really bad," Bos said.
Bos said they are about 15 to 20 miles away from the coast and there is no cell phone service. Their only communication is through Wifi, and that is only available through the county's EOC building. Bos said they have two briefings a day. He said they are staying in RVs.
While in Calhoun County, Ocala officers will help with police service, search and rescue and clearing areas using chainsaws. Lt. Sandra Duryea, the commander, said the officers will be in Calhoun County for at least seven days. With the amount of people in the convoy, Ocala police officials will be able to work 12-hour shifts.
• Marion County Fire Rescue Spokesman James Lucas said the 27 member Florida Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 8 — consisting of county, city and Gainesville firefighters — arrived in Medart around 7 a.m. Thursday. The crew staged at MCFR Operations Center in Ocala and left at midnight. Fire officials took seven vehicles, including three trailers and a little more than $1 million worth of equipment.
Lucas said the group, which will probably stay for a week, started their push to Carrabelle. They have deployed a single reconnaissance/search and rescue team to assess damages. Firefighters called the damage catastrophic.
• Seven Ocala Fire Rescue employees/firefighters were deployed to St. Marks. They will be gone for seven days. Follow @FLUSARTF8 on Facebook for timely updates on locations and assigned tasks.
• Thirteen members from the Marion County Sheriff's Office left Thursday morning for Columbia County, where they will meet with workers from Alachua and Columbia counties to convoy west to Port St. Joe, just south of Blountstown. On Friday, the Marion County Sheriff's Office plans to send up to 12 deputies to join the others in Port St. Joe, according to MCSO. The agency also has one of its helicopters in the area already to use for recovery efforts.
• Local employees of Mojo Grill and Sonny's BBQ plan to head north to feed recovery workers and residents.
• Ocala-based Campers Inn RVs is donating campers for Marion deputies to stay in while in the Panhandle. MCSO likely will be in the Panhandle for a week, according to the agency.
• Local Florida Highway Patrol troopers left for Panama City on Tuesday to assist with traffic control on U.S. 231.
• Ten Ocala Electric Utility employees have been deployed to Blountstown and will be gone for at least two weeks. After that, the needs of the area will be re-evaluated, according to city officials.
• Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) issued the following statement:
"Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle yesterday as a strong Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds at 155 mph. Florida public power utilities in the Panhandle — Quincy, Chattahoochee, Blountstown and Havana — area all 100 percent out of power with significant damage to their electric system and their community as a whole. Most of their electric systems will be a complete rebuild. Tallahassee has about 95 percent (about 113,000) of their customers out currently and about 60 percent of their transmission is out. Restoring transmission and critical care facilities is the top priority. We have a massive mutual aid response, some on the ground already and others on their way, to all the affected areas. In total, we are at well over 500 mutual aid crews."
Contact Austin L. Miller at 867-4118, firstname.lastname@example.org or @almillerosb.