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Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on Page 1A of the Sunday, March 14, 1993, edition of the Citrus County Chronicle.
For more photos, visit www.chronicleonline.com/content/anniversary-no-name-storm.
By Clint Riley
Parts of western Citrus County became one giant swimming pool Saturday morning.
While many residents were still asleep, coastal waters 6 feet above normal surged inland behind the force of hurricane-strength gusts up to 80 mph.
Within minutes, hundreds of residents from Homosassa to Crystal River found themselves surrounded by water and stranded.
Streets all along the coast turned into rivers, and fields became lakes. Emergency personnel raced to the aid of residents, but they too were overwhelmed by the racing waters that quickly turned Crystal River into a submerged city.
The National Weather Service in Ruskin reported that a tornado touched down Friday night in Crystal River and damaged or destroyed about 15 homes and condominiums and caused about $1 million in damage. County emergency officials, however, could not confirm that information Saturday night.
There were no deaths or serious injuries in Citrus County that could be directly related to the storm, officials said.
There were minor injuries associated with the tornado, a weather service spokesman said.
Florida Power Corp. emergency crews worked throughout the night to try to restore power to some 380,000 customers statewide who lost electricity Friday night and early Saturday morning.
At 5 a.m. Saturday, all 10,000 Crystal River customers lost power, although by noon, a company spokesman said, all but some 2,000 had their electricity restored.
Company spokesman Mark Jacobs said that workers hoped to get as many residents back on line as possible before plunging temperatures, as low as the mid-20s, hit the region Saturday. Forecasters said those freezing temperatures will continue through Saturday night.
Phone services were also interrupted, a United Telephone spokesman said, with some areas, especially in the flooded coastal region, not restored as of Saturday night.
Residents in other parts of the county were not affected. Extremely high winds from the late winter storm that swallowed the Southeast whipped the county through the night and all day Saturday, causing widespread property damage from the wind and downed trees.
By 11 a.m., County Commission Chairman Gary Bartell declared a local state of emergency. Gov. Lawton Chiles declared 21 counties, including Citrus, a disaster area.
It was too early to estimate the damage the storm inflicted on the county, sheriff’s spokeswoman Gail Tierney said.
The Florida National Guard and everyone with an available boat or four-wheel drive vehicle were called in Saturday to help officials evacuate stranded coastal residents and campers before a 4 p.m. high tide.
“The water is still rising,” Citrus County
Sheriff’s Department spokesman Pat Fisher said around 3 p.m. “I don’t think anyone anticipated the storm surge that came with this storm.”
County emergency officials called the storm the worst in recent memory and its affects are widespread.
Floodwaters spilled onto the floor of the old Crystal River bank building at the corner of U.S. 19 and Citrus Avenue in downtown Crystal River.
Rusty Harry, county emergency management assistant, said officials predict that Saturday’s storm surge at high tide should surpass the highest flood marking by one to two feet at the former bank.
“I’ve been here 15 years and we’ve never had anything like this,” county Emergency Medical Services Director Steve Lovenguth said.
Hurricane Elena sat off the coast in Sept. 1985 lashing Citrus, but Lovenguth said that storm and its subsequent flooding doesn’t compare to Saturday’s disaster.
“With Elena we had warning. With this, what did we have?” Lovenguth said as he prepared to launch his department’s pontoon boat on County Road 44 in Crystal River.
Emergency officials were bracing Saturday night for another surge of water to hit the coastline about midnight when the third high tide of the storm was predicted. Security was in place, where feasible, Saturday night to guard abandoned neighborhoods, Ms. Tierney said.
Residents should be able to return to their communities to assess damage about 6 a.m. Ms. Tierney said.
Of immediate concern to emergency personnel Saturday morning was getting residents in Old Homosassa, Ozello and in the waterfront communities and campground that line County Road 44, also known as Fort Island Trail.
“We’re trying to evacuate an entire city,” Crystal River Police Chief Roger Krieger said. “It’s a mess.”
Around 10 a.m. the Florida Highway Patrol closed U.S. 19 both directions into Crystal River.
Traffic was bypassed onto Northeast Eighth Avenue to State Road 44 before flooding shut that bypass down too. As the water steadily moved inland, so to did unusable evacuation routes.
Evacuees were shuttled from boat to boat and onto school buses. The buses moved the residents to American Red Cross shelters at either Rock Crusher Elementary School, Citrus Spring Elementary School and Lecanto High School.
However, those who did not wish to be evacuated were not forced to leave.