Struggling for Shelter and Power: Rural Florida Begins the Road to Recovery After Hurricane Idalia

by Michael Nguyen
Hurricane Idalia Recovery

After Hurricane Idalia wreaked havoc, residents in close-knit communities across a specific region of Florida are facing significant housing shortages and potentially long waits for electrical power to be reinstated, following the severe damage inflicted on the power infrastructure by the storm’s winds and flooding.

Making landfall last Wednesday in Florida’s thinly populated Big Bend area—a region linked by swamps and popular for fishing and paddling activities—Idalia unleashed its full fury. By Friday, the magnitude of the catastrophe became clearer. A regional power cooperative informed its 28,000 customers that electricity might not be restored for up to two weeks. Emergency authorities announced that housing trailers would be dispatched over the weekend to areas already suffering from limited housing options.

Jimmy Butler, a local real estate agent residing in Horseshoe Beach, an area among the hardest hit, stated, “We will rebuild and continue our community traditions of fishing and enjoying local seafood like redfish, trout, oysters, and scallops.”

Hurricane Idalia made its initial impact near Keaton Beach, bringing with it winds measuring 125 mph (200 kph) and a monumental storm surge that inundated the area. The tempest proceeded to devastate largely rural regions of inland Florida and southern Georgia. According to PowerOutage.us, approximately 120,000 homes and businesses in both states were still without power as of Friday.

The Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative, which serves four inland counties in Florida through 4,100 miles (6,600 kilometers) of power lines, issued a warning to its nearly 28,000 customers to prepare for a two-week power outage. The cooperative suffered significant damage to its primary power lines as well as to its residential grid infrastructure.

Around 300 line workers and contractors are actively engaged in restoring electricity, with generators being set up to assist some businesses in resuming operations. Mike McWaters, the CEO of the cooperative, communicated to customers that despite their best efforts, restoring power to everyone would be a time-consuming process.

Local residents, many of whom had evacuated before or during the storm, were seen helping each other remove debris and retrieve personal items, such as high school trophies and family photos. Emotional moments were abundant as they consoled each other.

In a tragic incident, one resident of Georgia lost his life due to a falling tree while attempting to remove another obstructing tree from a road. Authorities also reported a possible storm-related fatality near Gainesville, Florida, without providing further details.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, intends to visit Florida on Saturday to assess the storm’s impact alongside Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who is in the midst of a campaign to challenge Biden’s presidency. Governor DeSantis emphasized the importance of uninterrupted relief efforts.

Meanwhile, recovery is underway in other regions as well. Valdosta, Georgia, another area heavily impacted, continues to experience power outages. The local university has nonetheless decided to proceed with its scheduled football game, albeit changing the timing from evening to afternoon due to ongoing electrical issues.

By the time Idalia reached South Carolina, it had weakened to a tropical storm but still caused significant flooding in Charleston and numerous beach communities. Severe erosion has led to the closure of multiple beach access points, not only in South Carolina but also in Florida, south of the hurricane’s point of landfall.

As of Friday, the remnants of Hurricane Idalia were moving away from the U.S., with forecasters warning that it could regain tropical storm status by Saturday and affect Bermuda, which earlier this week had also been impacted by winds and rains from Hurricane Franklin.

Contributions to this report were made by Daniel Kozin in Horseshoe Beach; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Jeff Amy in Atlanta; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; Lisa J. Adams Wagner in Evans, Georgia; and Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire.

Funding for Big Big News climate and environmental reporting comes from various private foundations. Big Big News holds full responsibility for the content of this article.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Hurricane Idalia Recovery

What regions were most affected by Hurricane Idalia in Florida?

The most affected regions include Florida’s thinly populated Big Bend area and Horseshoe Beach, among other largely rural areas in inland Florida and southern Georgia.

How long is the power expected to be out in the affected regions?

The Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative warned its 28,000 customers that it might take up to two weeks to restore electrical power. Approximately 120,000 homes and businesses in Florida and Georgia are currently without power.

What are the plans for temporary housing for those affected?

Emergency officials have promised that trailers will arrive over the weekend to provide temporary housing in areas that were already facing limited housing options.

Are there any reported casualties due to Hurricane Idalia?

Yes, one resident in Georgia was killed by a falling tree while attempting to remove another tree from a road. There is also a reported, but as yet unspecified, storm-related death near Gainesville, Florida.

Is the federal government involved in the recovery process?

President Joe Biden plans to visit Florida on Saturday to assess the damage in conjunction with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.

Are other states also affected by this hurricane?

Yes, the hurricane moved on to impact southern Georgia and even caused significant flooding when it weakened to a tropical storm over South Carolina.

What is being done to restore basic utilities and services?

Around 300 line workers and contractors are working to restore electricity. Generators are being set up to help some businesses continue operations.

What kind of damage has been reported outside of human settlements?

The storm has led to serious erosion, especially along beaches. Access to many beaches has been closed or restricted due to safety concerns.

Is Hurricane Idalia expected to impact other areas after moving away from the U.S.?

Forecasters have warned that the remnants of Hurricane Idalia could regain tropical storm status by Saturday and affect Bermuda, which was also recently impacted by Hurricane Franklin.

More about Hurricane Idalia Recovery

  • Hurricane Idalia Initial Impact Report
  • Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative Power Outage Update
  • Emergency Housing Measures in Florida
  • PowerOutage.us Statistics
  • President Joe Biden’s Visit Announcement
  • Valdosta, Georgia Recovery Efforts
  • South Carolina Flooding News
  • Bermuda Weather Forecast
  • Big Big News Climate Initiative

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Emily Moore September 1, 2023 - 7:41 pm

It’s heartbreaking to hear about the casualties. Nature really is merciless sometimes. Sending prayers for those affected.

Mike Thompson September 1, 2023 - 7:44 pm

Wow, this is an eye opener. Cant believe the level of devastation Idalia has caused. Kudos to the emergency teams, hang in there guys!

John Clark September 1, 2023 - 9:33 pm

It’s good that Biden is visiting but what’s really needed are long-term solutions to these types of natural disasters. Infrastructure is key!

Tom Lewis September 1, 2023 - 11:33 pm

Not to be that guy, but the economic impacts of this are gonna be HUGE. Especially for local businesses that were already struggling.

Sara Williams September 2, 2023 - 3:34 am

omg, two weeks without power? that’s crazy! Hope everyone stays safe and finds a way to get by.

Karen Mitchell September 2, 2023 - 6:49 am

Makes you think twice about climate change, huh. We need to do something before its too late.

Rachel Stone September 2, 2023 - 7:39 am

Is anyone else worried about what happens to the wildlife in these situations? The human toll is awful but the environment takes a hit too.

Alex Davis September 2, 2023 - 12:48 pm

Great read, but could’ve used more stats for context. Like, what was the financial cost of all this damage?


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