PENSACOLA, Fla. — As Florida Panhandle residents and business owners started the long process Thursday of cleaning up amid receding floodwaters, a food pantry with no space to store canned goods begged donors to give money instead.
Manna Food Pantries, the primary food pantry in the Pensacola area, may be a total loss after 3 feet of water flooded food coolers and administrative offices. It can't accept new food donations because it has nowhere to store the items, Executive Director DeDe Flounlacker said.
"If you were thinking of giving a can of food, give $5 instead," Flounlacker told the Pensacola News-Journal. "It's about as bad as it can be. Nobody got hurt, though, and we're glad for that."
Nearly 2 feet of rain drenched Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in the span of about 24 hours. Officials assessing the damage Thursday said they were exploring whether to have both counties declared disaster zones.
Burst water pipes in Gulf Breeze compounded flooding from the rain, and receding waters exposed buckled roadways. About 660 Gulf Power customers remained without power Thursday morning.
A boil water notice remained in effect for parts of Pensacola along Escambia Bay. The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority lost three service trucks in the flooding, including one that maintenance workers used to help free a woman trapped in her car, said executive director Stephen E. Sorrell.
Kyle Schmitz returned to his Pensacola home Thursday to find a dark brown line ringing the exterior, marking how high the water rose after he fled Tuesday night with his 18-month-old son. He was packing clothes, dishes and books that had stayed dry on high shelves, but larger, soaked pieces of furniture such as his bed and couch were destined to be left at the curb.
Schmitz told his landlords that he'd have to find somewhere else to live.
"It's pretty obvious I'm not coming back to this house," he said. "I told them, 'Rent's due today, it's the first of the month, but I'm not going to pay that.' They said, 'We get that.'"
In Washington County, Bridgette Phillips' husband had to kayak from the road to the front door of their Greenhead home to assess the damage.
They don't live near a creek or reservoir, but the neighborhood has poor drainage. Their yard had been completely submerged by the flooding. Without anywhere else to go, the water seemed into their home.
"There was 2 feet of water in the house. It was coming up through the floors," Phillips said. "It's horrible."
A woman who died when she drove her car into high water was identified as a retired school district employee. The Florida Highway Patrol says Betty Faye Word drowned Wednesday when her Mercedes was submerged by floodwaters just north of Pensacola. Escambia County Superintendent of Schools Malcolm Thomas tells the Pensacola News-Journal that the district is mourning with Word's family.
The system that had blown violent winds across parts of Tennessee and Mississippi early this week and then soaked the Panhandle continued to move east Thursday. It brought rain and some flooding to cities in the Mid-Atlantic region and along the East Coast, but nothing as severe as what residents in the Panhandle and Alabama's Gulf Coast saw.
In Bay County, Florida, officials warned residents that even though the rains had passed, high water levels in lakes, rivers and reservoirs were straining flood control measures and that more flooding and runoff may be possible.
"We're doing everything we possibly can," County Commission Chairman Guy Tunnell told The News Herald. "It's a situation where folks have to use common sense and look out for dangerous situations."
Officials across the Panhandle compared the rains to a hurricane — only one they hadn't had time to prepare for.
"I'm gathering the wood to build an ark," Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson told the Northwest Florida Daily News as he assessed the damage.