Ask some of the hundreds who stayed in their coastal home, ignored an evacuation order, got flooded out and were one of the 73 who had to be rescued by law enforcement.
For them, Idalia was a nightmare.
But those high and dry in Lecanto or on the county’s east side, who may have seen tree debris in their yard or some road ponding, are probably wondering what all the fuss was about.
It could have been worse. It could have been better.
“We are very blessed we did not get the brunt of this storm,” Emergency Management Director Chris Evan said.
It started Saturday, Aug. 26, when the county opened sandbag sites in preparation for a tropical system that, at the time, was near the Yucatan Peninsula. Idalia eventually became a depression, then a tropical storm and then became a Category 1 hurricane as it passed the western tip of Cuba.
We know the rest: Idalia revved up when it hit the hot Gulf waters, took on speed and reached Category 3 status. Some feared it would go all the way up to a Cat 4..
Idalia finally made landfall near Keaton Beach at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday as a high-end Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 125 mph.
Preparing for the worst
On Tuesday, Aug. 29, Citrus County started preparing for the worst. The spaghetti models showed we were on a bullseye for a large, dangerous hurricane.
A mandatory evacuation order went out for coastal areas. Some heeded it and many didn’t. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a widespread state of emergency for much of Florida, including Citrus County.
Gas stations around the county started seeing an influx of cars. People hit the grocery stores to stock up on water, canned goods and other items needed for a potentially long stay inside their homes.
Unlike past storms, though, there was plenty of water still on shelves right up to landfall.
The county opened shelters. Schools closed. County government shut down. People went to bed Tuesday night fearing the worst.
And then somewhere around midnight, the storm’s path started changing ever so slightly farther north, toward the Big Bend area. Citrus was still in the cone and very much in the storm-surge warning but folks started to sense that maybe we would be spared the worst.
Folks on the coast woke up Wednesday to water in their homes and impassable roads. The storm surge reached 7 feet overnight. Thankfully, it didn’t get up to the projected 11 feet and it came in fairly slow. That, said Evan, saved lives.
Crystal River Mayor Joe Meek that morning surveyed his city from an airboat going down a flooded U.S. 19. It was, he said, a sad day.
“Most of the city is underwater,” he said.
Sheriff Mike Prendergast said 73 people had to be rescued from flooded homes on Wednesday. A day later, Prendergast went up in a helicopter with U.S. Sen. Rick Scott to survey the damage from the air.
The county received news Thursday morning that the federal government declared Citrus County a disaster area, speeding up the process to get storm-affected residents back on their feet.
Citrus County and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Friday deployed Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA) teams into areas impacted by the storm surge.
Hurricane Idalia is nothing but a memory for the majority of Citrus Countians.
But it’s still fresh in the minds of all those hundreds of coastal residents who will live with the storm’s aftermath for weeks and months.
But Citrus County has been here before and it will get through it, Crystal River Mayor Joe Meek said.
Evan echoed those comments.
“We are a very resilient community,” he said. “People step up and help one another.”
Michael D. Bates is a staff writer with the Citrus County Chronicle and can be reached at email@example.com.