Since Hurricane Irma hit Alachua County on Sunday, the Santa Fe River has risen, causing road closures and another mandatory evacuation.
The unprecedented flooding could lead to the closure of Interstate 75 and major traffic delays as vehicles are rerouted, according to a press release. The rising waters, which were caused by heavy rainfall during the hurricane, have already led to the closure of bridges on U.S. 27 and U.S. 41 on Wednesday.
The Santa Fe River that runs under a bridge on I-75 at mile marker 408 has risen 15 feet in the past 36 hours, according to a Florida Department of Transportation press release. If the water level continues to rise as it’s expected to, the bridge will become impassable. This would result in I-75 closing south of Interstate 10 and north U.S. 441 in Alachua.
Alachua County officials denied rumors that I-75 would close at 2 p.m. Wednesday, but said a closure could still happen. If I-75 is closed, FDOT will reroute traffic to U.S. 19, U.S. 301 and Interstate 95, according to the press release. Other roads that could be impacted are Florida State Road 47 and U.S. 121.
The flooding has led Alachua County to issue a mandatory evacuation order for those who live near the Santa Fe River and residents north of U.S. 441 who live on streams or creeks, said Mark Sexton, the communications and legislative affairs director. The evacuation order primarily affects those who live in High Springs, Alachua and LaCrosse.
“It’s time for folks to take this really seriously and be safe,” he said.
Nothing can be done to control the flooding, and it’s uncertain how long residents will be displaced, Sexton said. The county has opened three shelters for residents who are being forced to evacuate. The two general population shelters include Fellowship Church, located at 16916 NW U.S. 441 in High Springs, and Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center, located at 1028 NE 14th St. There is also a special needs shelter at the Alachua County Senior Recreation Center, located at 5701 NW 34th Blvd.
The shelters should be used as a last resort, and none are at capacity yet, Sexton said.
The City of Gainesville and Alachua County are asking residents to return sandbags, filled or empty, to help those in High Springs who are experiencing flooding from the Santa Fe River, according to a Gainesville press release. Sandbags can be returned to High Springs Memorial Park, located at 17380 NW U.S. 441, and will be redistributed to those in need near the river.
If the north and southbound lanes of I-75 were to close, FDOT warns traffic could continue to be affected until Saturday.
UF classes are still scheduled to resume Thursday. UF Public Affairs sent out a message to all UF students warning them of the road closures and anticipated delays.
Julia Aiello, a UF computer science sophomore, left her home in Tampa at 8 a.m. Wednesday to avoid traffic on I-75 caused by Hurricane Irma. Aiello considers herself one of the lucky ones. She said she couldn’t imagine trying to make it back to Gainesville if I-75 closes.
“I still have a lot of friends that are having trouble getting back,” the 19-year-old said.
Aiello was surprised that UF didn’t cancel classes for the rest of the week, especially considering the traffic delays and flooding.
“All we want to do is get back to campus, go to our classes, and we can’t,” she said.