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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

County emergency services encounter few issues with Tropical Storm Nicole

Most damage consisted of fallen trees, power outages

Alachua County encountered another bout of severe weather last week with Tropical Storm Nicole, more than one month after minimal damages were felt from Hurricane Ian. 

Nicole reached Alachua County Nov. 9 with average wind speeds of 30 to 50 mph through Nov. 10. It left downed power lines, trees and more than 1,500 county residents without power in its wake.   

While Alachua County didn’t face widespread damage during Nicole unlike St. Lucie, Volusia, Flagler, Palm Beach and Martin counties — there were five county residents trapped under roofs after trees fell on their properties. 

A resident of Fairbanks — an unincorporated community between Gainesville and Waldo — was transported to UF Health Shands Hospital in critical condition Nov. 10 after a tree collapsed on his shed from tropical storm force winds, said Harold Theus, Alachua County Fire Rescue fire chief. 

The resident was trapped under his roof in critical condition, he said, unable to move. ACFR arrived at the scene and used a front-end loader and a tractor to remove him from the shed after an hour.

“We had to do everything to lift the weight off of him, first of all, and then create a secure environment for us to go in and actually extract him from underneath the tree in the roof,” Theus said.

Fire rescue was prepared for wind-related damages due to a high amount of wooded area in the county, Theus said.

Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Nov. 10 in the southeastern region of the county, he said four other people were rescued after trees fell on their properties due to wind speeds of 45 mph.

Rescue operations for the four people lasted about 20 minutes once rescue personnel arrived. They were able to remove themselves from the damaged property. 

“A tree on a house is a very complicated matter because you end up with an unstable structure,” Theus said. “You don't know what part of the roof or ceiling could collapse next.”

Throughout the rest of the county, damage consisted mainly of fallen trees and power lines, said Alachua County spokesperson Mark Sexton said. About 1,673 residents were without power as of 3:40 p.m. Nov. 10, according to a Gainesville Regional Utilities tweet.

Tropical storm winds of up to 70 mph reached Alachua County around 11 p.m. Nov. 10. Residents were cautioned to monitor hurricane kit supplies and determine whether they needed to stay at a shelter. Sheltering is a last resort, Sexton said.

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“We really asked people to assess their structure and if they lived in a mobile home or a home that they felt unsafe with to start making plans to go to a shelter,” Sexton said.

Although not as severe as other storms Alachua County faced over the years, Sexton said the community response to Nicole was incredible. 

Kaley Behl, an Alachua County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, said law enforcement officers will often work double shifts during severe weather events to maintain public safety.

When Behl monitored emergency calls Nov. 10, she said she received around 102 weather-related calls for service. For Hurricane Ian, Behl said there were around 96 calls.

Law enforcement officials cut down trees to clear roadways, remained stationed at shelters and assisted power companies to clear broken power lines and get systems up and running in the aftermath of Nicole. When traffic lights are down, officers also direct traffic, Behl said.

“It's maybe not always a law enforcement function, but it's definitely a safety function,” Behl said.

About 40 trees were cut down by chainsaw crews in the aftermath of the storm, Sexton said. 

“Public works was poised and ready,” Sexton said. “Flooding really never became an issue. But we were prepared for that.”

In the case of previous hurricanes and tropical storms, the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides aid and financial assistance to rebuild structures and help displaced residents, including those in areas most susceptible to flooding. This is the case for Lee County following Hurricane Nicole, Director of Emergency Management Jen Grice said.

Contact Sophia Bailly at Follow her on Twitter @sophia_bailly.

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Sophia Bailly

Sophia Bailly is a first-year journalism major and the graduate and professional school reporter. When she isn't writing, she enjoys reading, listening to podcasts and spending time outside.

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