DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WMBB) — Two and half months after Hurricane Idalia swept through the Big Bend, Suwannee County emergency management officials are learning how to better prepare.
The team took a training trip to Walton County this month.
Walton County Emergency Management sent staff to help rural Suwannee County before category 4 Hurricane Idalia wreaked havoc on the land.
“We got some short-term, very brief flash flooding. So we survived that. It was just a lot more of what we would call a micro storm, a lot of tornadic twisting, wind damage that came through because it’s just a very quick moving storm,” said Suwannee County Emergency Management Director Chris Volz.
Suwannee County has an emergency staff of 2 under the sheriff’s office umbrella. Volz said without Walton County’s help, they would not have made it through.
“Without Jeff’s leadership and his understanding of what a small rural, fiscally restrained county goes through and seeing that up front, if we wouldn’t have had those people we would have been behind the eight ball. There’s no doubt about that,” said Volz.
Now working through recovery, Volz brought his team to sit down with Walton County staff on Nov. 7 and learn the best practices of response and recovery.
“We weren’t training. We were not training and educating our outside staff and our leadership and what does that mean? So when you have a county that comes in that’s already got the blueprint in place to put that in action in motion, for us, that meant a lot. So for my leaders, they got to see, wait, this works. This makes sense,” said Volz.
Another priority in Suwannee County’s recovery is agriculture. Volz said livestock, cotton, corn, and peanuts were heavily impacted.
“We have over a hundred chicken houses that were destroyed or damaged and that’s significant for us. We haven’t seen the impact yet because I think it’s about six months down the road when those chickens would and should have hatched out. Over 5 million of them are euthanized to be used for our poultry industry, they won’t be there and so we’re not sure exactly financially that impact how it’s going to be,” said Volz.
Dairy cows in the area also saw a 10-15% decrease in milk production due to stress from the storm.
Gov. Desantis signed a disaster relief bill on Nov. 13 providing $416 million for North Florida farmers and residents affected by Hurricane Idalia and future disasters.
Each farmer can receive a low to zero-interest loan of up to $250,000.
The loan must be paid off over ten years with loan forgiveness starting in year seven.