By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
On April 30, the same day that the Madison County Commission met in a second special session to extend the county’s declared state of emergency for another seven days, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a State of Emergency for 26 North Florida counties. The 26 counties affected include a chunk extending almost all the way across the upper northern part of the state, from Escambia at the westernmost point, back along the Panhandle to the Big Bend and North Central Florida (including Madison and the surrounding counties of Jefferson, Taylor, Lafayette, Suwannee and Hamilton), to Columbia, Alachua and Levy Counties in the east. Gov. Scott’s declaration makes this area able to receive assistance from the federal government as well as from other states that have agreements with Florida to render aid in such circumstances. It also directs government and law enforcement agencies in the region to provide personnel under the command of the State Coordinating Officer to deal with the situation, temporarily suspends tolls and other roadway fees in order to expedite emergency transport vehicles or facilitate evacuation measures should such be necessary, as well as a host of other measures designed to mitigate emergency conditions and speed relief efforts. The Madison County Commission first met in a special session April 23, after a series of heavy rains had rivers rising to flood stage. The rains were causing inland flooding as well, where excessive rainfall had simply saturated the ground to the point where the water was collecting in large, low-lying areas, with nowhere to go. At that time, some expressed hope that the sunny weather that day would hold out. However, there was more rain in cards for the rest of that week. On April 30, they met again to extend the State of Emergency, because each declaration expires after seven days. “Probably most of you know what happened to Pensacola overnight,” said Emergency Management Director Tom Cisco, referring to the record-breaking deluge that hit the western tip of the panhandle two days earlier, washing out major roadways. Extreme rainfall had been predicted for Madison as well, but fortunately, actual rainfall here was much less. If there was no more rain, the rivers would keep going down; extending the declaration of emergency would keep the county in the loop with the state as far as filing reports and getting reimbursement for eligible expenses incurred after the water was gone and officials could see what kind of road damage they had. County officials are also hoping for state help with aerial mosquito spraying to deal with the hordes of mosquitoes emerging from acres and acres of standing water in various parts of the county. Madison Road Department Director Lonnie Thigpen said that, at the time of the meeting, 19 roads were closed, and how long they had to stay closed depended on how much more water was going to come down on the county from Georgia. Several people attending the meeting recalled the heavy rains of 1948 that had suddenly washed out a road that was acting as a dam; when the road gave way, much of the area around Pinetta and between Rocky Ford Road and Hwy 145 experienced flash flooding. Once again, a similar situation was building up, with one roadway holding back a thousand acres of water three to four feet deep. Commissioners and Road Department officials discussed possible emergency measures to stabilize the road surface and allow the water to pour over it slowly without taking out the entire roadway, but other circumstances after the meeting meant that the Road Department had to hold off on taking any kind of action. As of Monday afternoon, May 5, the department was still having to wait. The County Commission will meet in Special Session again Wednesday, May 7, at 4:30 p.m., in the meeting room of the Courthouse Annex. The public is invited and encouraged to attend.