Picking up the pieces after Cindy

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By Heather Osbourne | 315-4440 | @heatheronwfdn | hosbourne@nwfdailynews.com

Flooded roads, downed trees, beach erosion and swelling rivers were some of the major concerns that emergency management officials dealt with Thursday, a day after Tropical Storm Cindy scraped the Panhandle.

The City of Fort Walton Beach — which received the brunt of the storm locally — performed its damage assessment Wednesday, estimating just above $100,000 in structural residential damage from the probable tornado that swept through Fort Walton Beach early Wednesday morning. City officials will not have the total dollar amount of damage to Ferry Park — which remained closed until next week due to the severe damage it suffered — until next week.

In Okaloosa County, officials said there was no significant damage from Wednesday’s storm.

In the city, 12 homes, two apartment complexes, eight roads, Ferry Park and Elliot Point Elementary School suffered damage from Wednesday morning’s high winds and rain that fell most of the day, according to Randy McDaniel, chief of emergency management.

Although the storm had moved inland by Thursday, the swelling of rivers and other tributaries continued. McDaniel said the county will continue to monitor the rivers overnight and expects to see flooding of the Black Water River Friday morning. 

“We might get flooding of the secondary roads, and we will see flooding of west and east park at Baker,” McDaniel said. “But, we don’t find it as a major concern.” 

Beach waters remain closed across the Panhandle and are expected to not re-open until riptides subside, McDaniel said.

The National Weather Service reported the tides as 1 to 2 feet above normal in Okaloosa County. 

“We still have high risk of rip currents and there is a high surf advisory in effect until 6 a.m. Friday,” McDaniel said. “The total amount of erosion won’t be that bad though.”

The National Weather Service has not scheduled a date for surveyors to visit Fort Walton Beach to confirm Wednesday’s probable tornado, McDaniel said. He expects the process to be delayed while the National Weather Service focuses on the higher impacted areas north of the Panhandle.

Tropical Storm Cindy is currently on track to move into southeastern Arkansas early Friday and into Tennessee by Friday evening, according to the National Hurricane Center. 

Although Cindy is becoming weaker on land, the National Hurricane Center said rainfall will likely continue in the western Florida Panhandle through Friday morning.

Southern Okaloosa County was the hardest hit, but Walton and Santa Rosa counties experienced heavy rain and wind.

Walton County Emergency Management Director Jeff Goldberg said three roads in North Walton are closed due to flooding and, if the rain continues, additional road closures are possible. 

“Right now we don’t have any other damage despite the flooded roads,” Goldberg said. “There is the potential for our rivers to go above the flood stage, so we have a feeling there may be some more road closures based on how the rivers are doing.” 

Beach Access 44 is closed until further notice after tide levels rose up under the ramp, sweeping away the sand and causing the structure to become unstable. Goldberg said the county is expecting to have minor beach erosion from this week’s strong surf.

“Depending on how high the erosion is we could see smaller beaches and drop offs in the sand,” Goldberg said. “It doesn’t look like it went high enough to affect any of the homes or structures.” 

In Santa Rosa County, Brad Baker, emergency management director, said the county’s beaches have also received slight erosion. However, he said the storm did not take a “major toll” on the beaches. 

“There’s still a lot of water standing on the beach and roads,” he said.

The surf in Santa Rosa County is approximately 2 feet above normal, according to the National Weather Service.

Highway 399 (J. Earle Bowden Way), connecting Navarre Beach to Pensacola Beach, remains closed as road crews cleared sand and debris from the highway. Gulf Island National Seashore is closed because of flooding to roads and parking lots.

Near Milton, significant flooding was also reported in Blackwater River State Forest, according to a Thursday press release from the Florida Forest Service. Portions of several major roads in the state forest are closed because of severe flood damage and high water levels on the bridges. 

“Although floodwaters continue to recede from many of the roads, many of the creeks and rivers rose another 8-12 inches today (Thursday), preventing reopening of many forest bridges and the closure of the Coldwater campground,” said  David Smith, operations administrator for Blackwater.

In Pace, one home was flooded by few inches of water and three others had water in the garages, Baker said.

“Our real major threat was rain, and we fared without any catastrophic damages,” he said. 

Tropical Storm Cindy was the first storm of the 2017 hurricane season to hit the Panhandle. The season began June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

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