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Michael Hits Georgia Pecan Farmers Hard, Prices Likely to Rise

October 18th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
While much of nation has focused on the loss of life and damage along the Gulf coast, Michael also caused significant damage to crops in South Georgia.
The losses could hit pecan pie lovers in the pocket book this holiday season.
Michael whipped a pecan orchard with 125 mile an hour winds, dropping two million pounds on the ground.
“Thirty to forty percent of the pecan trees are gone, in my opinion,” said fourth generation pecan grower, Eric Cohen. “Basically the storm Michael went right through the heart, I mean, where the majority of the pecans are at.”
South Georgia and north Florida grow the bulk of the nations pecans.
The damage at Cohen’s orchard isn’t unique.
Farmers across South Georgia have been hit hard, which means prices are likely to rise.
“I mean, half the crop gone, it’s got to affect the price some,” said Cohen.
Cotton and peanuts were also hit hard.
“This is the worst thing that anybody’s every seen in South Georgia, and North Florida,” said Tommy Dollar with Dollar Family Farms.
The damage brought both the President and Vice President to South Georgia to listen.
“You can see the importance of this when you see the President, Vice President, Secretary of Agriculture come to this part of the world,” said Dollar.
Despite the nuts on the ground being fresh, they can’t be harvested.
“We can’t because there’s so much debris in here, you can’t get them,” said Cohen. “It costs you more to clean up than the crops on the ground.”
The question for growers here is whether  pecans, cotton, corn and peanuts remain a viable business.
It’s a question that won’t be answered for days or even months.
Most farmers have crop damage insurance which will cover much of this years losses, but there’s no help for the downed trees that take ten years or more to break even.

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FSU Homecoming May Mean Hurricane Evacuees Will Have to Relocate

October 17th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Hurricane Michael evacuees residing in hotels in the state capital  may have to find a new place to stay this weekend as thousands will descend on the city for Florida State’s homecoming.
Ever since Hurricane Michael hit, finding a hotel room throughout the panhandle has been a challenge.
Peter Schlyen fled Marianna and was lucky enough to find a room in the state’s capital through Thursday.
“We’d rather be at the home. We left our cats in the home. We have to go back for them and also to wait on the restoration of power,” said Schlyen.
Rooms in Tallahassee are expected to become increasingly scarce.
Thousands of alumni are expected this weekend for FSU’s homecoming.
“When hoteliers make reservations, they do have to honor those reservations,” said Amanda Handley with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Handley says so far, people are responding with compassion.
“Many folks we have heard from our members have willingly given up their reservations or said we’ll find another place to stay,” said Handley. “So that they can come in and keep the rooms for the evacuees.”
The community and state have had to work together to come up with creative ways to house workers and evacuees.
FSU says up to 600 people can be housed here at the civic center on campus.
Governor Rick Scott says the state is working with the Federal Government to help evacuees find shelter.
“We’re going to do everything we can to keep helping people,” said Scott. “Your heart goes out to anybody who can’t be in their house.”
The Governor opened up the Governor’s Mansion to host Highway Patrol troopers sent to help with the recovery.
The American Red Cross says it has shelter space available.
“We welcome everyone into our shelters. We provide meals, comfort, cots, blankets,” said President of the Red Cross, Gail McGovern.
Any evacuees unable to find a room this weekend can go to redcross.org to find nearby shelters.
The American Red Cross is also asking for additional volunteers to help at shelters.

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Governor Visits Red Cross Operations Center

October 17th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Governor Rick Scott toured the Red Cross facility in the state’s capital city Wednesday morning.
He was joined by President of the American Red Cross Gail McGovern.
He met with volunteers who have come from all over the country to help with Hurricane Michael relief efforts.
“This is the time in an operation where people get weary and and they need a little bit of uplifting and I am so grateful that the Governor swung by, came to the ops center. He shook everyone’s hands. Everyone was just so thrilled,” said Red Cross President Gail McGovern. “They came from all 50 states. He spent the time to talk to everyone and it’s a big morale booster whenever something like that happens.”
The American Red Cross has 1,500 members deployed throughout the state.
An additional 700 volunteers have signed up to help.
If you’d like to volunteer you can go to redcross.org.

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Property Tax Cap Expiring Could Cost Businesses $700 Million

October 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Florida businesses and renters could see a $700 million increase in property taxes at the start of 2019.
That’s the message groups supporting Amendment 2 want voters to consider before casting their ballot in November.
Before 2008 businesses, rental property or second homes faced unlimited increases in property taxes as values skyrocketed.
A constitutional amendment capped annual property tax increases for non-homestead properties at 10%, but the cap is set to expire at the end of the year.
“This cap is very important for renters, for businesses, for communities, for anyone who buys literally anything, any kind of consumer,” said Beth Matuga, Campaign Manager for Everybody is For Amendment 2.
Amendment 2 would extend the cap permanently if it passes.
A coalition of groups supporting the amendment including Florida TaxWatch and Florida Realtors say without the amendment, huge tax hikes are likely.
“Nearly a billion dollar recurring tax increase for businesses throughout the state,” said Robert Weissert, Vice President of Florida TaxWatch. “This will stifle growth. It will cost jobs. It will increase costs for consumers.”
Opponents of Amendment 2 say it’s a tax break for big business, but supporters say small businesses also stand to suffer if the cap is lifted.
Anna King owns Cabello’s Salon and Spa in Tallahassee.
She says any spike in property taxes would drastically increase her rent.
“You know with everything prices rise, but my rent is the highest thing that I have,” said King.
Supporters of Amendment 2 say if the cap expires, an estimated 5.6 million properties in the state would see rapid property tax increases.
Annual property tax increases for homestead properties are capped at 3% a year.

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Hurricane Ravaged Panhandle Could Face Election Difficulties

October 16th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
Nine of the counties hardest hit by Hurricane Michael have played a significant role in the outcome of statewide elections.
Voters face significant hurdles when early voting begins next Monday.
Traffic was backed up for more than three miles with relief workers, volunteers or displaced residents, a rarity in downtown Blountstown, the county seat for Calhoun County.
Elections Supervisor Sharon Chason says mail ballots poses a particular problem.
“There’s no way a postal carrier can get into probably half of…more than half of the county,” said Chason.
The damaged counties play an important role in statewide elections.
Donald Trump got nearly 79,000 votes, equating to 69% of his margin of victory.
Rick Scott won in 2014 by just over 64,000 votes.
The nine counties accounted for 70% of his margin of victory.
Both major parties have something to worry about,
“We’ve got a whole set of people who are relocating,” said Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Andrew Gillum. “And my guess is voting isn’t at the top of their agenda right now.”
Gillum should expect 15,000 more votes from heavily damaged Gadsden, if people turn out.
Florida statute 101.733 allows the Governor to suspend or delay an election for up to ten days, but Supervisors in the hardest areas say that won’t be necessary.
“Folks that involved, the Counties, the Supervisors, are working twenty-four-seven to try to make sure they can meet the demands of the election and the voters in their counties,” said Rob Labasky with the Florida State Association of Elections Supervisors.
Early voting starts Monday, but making that happen won’t be easy for Supervisors, or voters.
Under Florida law, any registered voter can vote anywhere in the state during early voting or on election day.
That includes displaced residents or relief workers away from home.
Simply change you address at any polling place in the county where you have re-located.

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Small-Town Blues: Blountstown Recovers

October 15th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
Blountstown Florida is 50 miles west of the state capital and 52 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.
The destruction caused by. Hurricane Michael in the small town is unusual because it so far inland.
Blountstown Florida resembles a war zone.
Carolyn Panek rode out the 145 mile an hour winds on the floor of a friends house.
“Very glad to be alive. TI have never seen anything like this. It’s unreal,” said Panek. “Of course I was afraid. I was in a little old bitty utility room on a dog pad with a blanket and a pillow.”
We met Carolyn picking up relief supplies at the first Baptist Church.
The church lost part of its roof in the storm, but Pastor Tim Rhodes held Sunday services anyway.
“We wanted to remember there is a god. He is good, and he loves us,” said Rhodes. “Even though you’re going through this, God’s still here.”
On the town’s main intersection, a Texas trucking company, who’s owner grew up in Blountstown, set up a large scale kitchen.
“Just trying to cook, trying to keep up. We’re in desperate need of more water, we need ice. It’s unbelievable,” said Travis Platt, who is volunteering as a cook.
Thousands are being fed three meals a day.
“If it wasn’t for everybody out here, no, we probably wouldn’t be able to eat. And we are thankful we are blessed,” said Jake Peters, a volunteer fireman.
The city has so much distraction, recovery will likely be measured not in months, but years.
The prison outside Blountstown was so damaged, inmates had to be transferred.
It was one of four panhandle prisons that had to be closed because of storm damage.

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Tallahassee to Act as Hub For Hurricane Relief Efforts

October 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The state capital is almost back to normal after Hurricane Michael knocked out power for more than 90% of the city and took down thousands of trees.
As of Monday morning, 92% of residents had power back and schools and universities were back open, but Hurricane relief efforts are far from over for the city.
The Million Air field on the outskirts of town will become a tent city by mid week, acting as a base for 1,000 personnel and another thousand trucks.
Those personnel will continue relief efforts in harder hit areas of the panhandle.
Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum surveyed the area Monday afternoon.
“Tallahassee, one of the reasons all throughout this storm recovery I’ve said that it was important for us to get back to 100%, is because we knew that we would play a larger recovery role throughout the region,” said Gillum.
The storm is also impacting elections. Both U.S. Senator Bill Nelson’s debate with Governor Rick Scott and Gillum’s debate with Ron DeSantis were put on hold in the wake of the disaster.
Scott has supsended his campaign for the U.S. Senate indefinitely.
“Well people don’t want to be talking politics in the middle of a storm, but that time will come,” said Nelson.
Gillum says many displaced Floridian’s will likely be seeking refuge in Tallahassee during the election.
“What we should do as a state, is make every opportunity possible for them to vote, to include for some of those folks who are in the impacted areas who have chosen to stay,” said Gillum. “Making sure that they have mobile units available to be able to cast their votes.”
Those victims will be allowed to vote wherever they end up, but they’ll have to update their address to do so, even if it’s only a temporary one.
We’ve reached out to the Department of State for comment on what will be done to help hurricane victims vote, but have not received a response yet.

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Few Hurricane Michael Insurance Claims Filed Yet

October 12th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
Damage from Hurricane Michael is likely to be in the billions of dollars, but relatively few insurance claims have been filed so far.
Part of the problem may be a change made by emergency managers last year.
Some of the most severely damaged areas are off limits to anyone who doesn’t live there.
Insurance consultant Lisa Miller says twenty adjusters couldn’t make the trip west from Tallahassee.
“The difficulty has been getting past some of the reentry barriers further west of Tallahassee. Last year there was a change in badging for adjusters from the Division of emergency management,” said Miller.
The Division didn’t immediately respond to our questions, but so far, few insurance claims have been filed.
Behind a pile of debris is a driveway and a house owned by Michael Huff.
He says he hasn’t file a claim yet either.
“They released me to spend money, but they don’t know how much yet,” said Huff. “But I  don’t know how much the policy will actually cover.”
Miller says be careful of what contracts ask you sign
“If you see a sentence that says I hereby assign all my rights of this policy to this vendor, do not sign it,” said Miller.
Even tree service owner Carlos Collins says be wary of some of his competitors.
“There are people out there who are scam artists. They rip the older people off who are seniors, and they tale there money for deposit and never return,” said Collins.
And for lucky homeowners who didn’t get hit, the industry says  the one thing you can do is make your home stronger before the next storm hits.
The Governor toured Panama City from the air Thursday, Friday he visited Gulf and Franklin counties.

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Tallahassee Hopes to Restore 90% of Power By Monday

October 12th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The state capital was spared the brunt of hurricane Michael, but storm tropical force winds still managed to knock out 97% of the cities power grid.
The city is starting to make progress day on two of recovery
Hurricane Michael took out power for more than 100,000 residents in the state’s capital city.
George Coaker was getting ready to set up a generator, Friday morning for some temporary relief.
“All we can do is be thankful for what we have you know? Power outages is the least of our worries,” said Coaker. “So many people lost their homes and some people lost their lives.”
At the start of the day, power had been restored to 28,000 residents.
Large restoration efforts narrowed traffic down to a single lane on some major streets like Thomasville Road, but the inconveniences didn’t seem to bother residents Terry and Katia Coonan.
“It’s nothing compared to what other people experienced and so we are not complaining here. Just cleaning the yard,” said Katia.
“Yeah we’re counting our blessings,” said Terry.
Police say powerless traffic lights caused some accidents.
A number of roads including this usually busy secondary artery were still blocked off.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum spent much of the day surveying damaged areas.
“To just sort of check out various neighborhoods, to try to ensure that we’re not missing anybody,” said Gillum.
He says the goal is to have all streets open by the end of the day.
The city has an equally ambitious goal for restoring power, hoping to restore 90% by the end of the weekend.
“We’re moving pretty, in my opinion, pretty rapidly to get people back together,” said Gillum.
Gillum says a large amount of outside help is helping with the restoration process.
The number of crews available immediately following Michael, were equal to the height of the restoration following Hermine in 2016, which knocked out power for a week or more in some parts of the city.
The city is encouraging residents to come out, restock supplies and join in community events over the weekend.

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Greensboro: Hit Hard By Michael and Interstate Closures

October 11th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The small town of Greensboro, Florida was hit hard by hurricane Michael.
The storm spawned at least two tornadoes, damaging multiple homes.
Trees smashed through the roofs was a sight many residents of Greensboro Florida awoke to, Thursday morning after Hurricane Michael tore through the town.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said resident Torri McClellan.
She says she left her home just minutes before an enormous tree fell, completely destroying a large portion of her house.
“Things that I’ve worked hard for are in this home… my memories,” said McClellan.
At least one person was killed when a tree crashed on their home near the town.
Throughout Gadsden county there are three other confirmed fatalities, but the details of those deaths haven’t been released.
“That’s what’s most important right now, is looking at the blessings,” said McClellan. “It could have been worse. I could have still been in the house when the tree fell.”
Just a few miles down the road from the town of Greensboro, both entrances to I-10, east and westbound were closed off for most of the day.
Kyle Ewers with Wack’em & Stackem’ Tree Services was stuck at the interchange for the entire day.
“Very very tired. Running out of fuel,” said Ewers.
He says his company came down from South Carolina to work with FEMA and help with recovery, but the road closure has blocked their way to the hardest hit areas.
“In order for them to get on we have to push the way,” said Ewers.
And he doesn’t know where he’s going to end up or when.
“We can’t even do our job yet because they haven’t instructed us of where everybody is being stationed at,” said Ewers.
Emergency vehicles and national guard troops were allowed to continue west, but a mile long line of semis and evacuees trying to return home will be stuck until the road is safe to travel.
For the latest travel information use the FL511 app.

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Coastal Homes in Wakulla County Ravaged by Storm Surge

October 11th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
The damage across north Florida is still being assessed.
Storm surge, not wind, caused most damage to the east of where Michael made landfall.
Storm surge estimated at 11 feet by residents who rode Michael out, demolished everything in its path along Ochlocknee Bay south of Tallahassee.
The county hasn’t seen water like this since Dennis in 2005.
“It usually is about 700 houses that are affected that we had that time,” said Brad Harvey, the Wakulla County Property Appraiser. “We’re seeing a lot more along the coast here of that and we’re seeing more damage inland.
83% of the county was without power at midday Thursday.
Residents who didn’t lose everything were busy cleaning up.
“we’ll take everything out, dry it out, and put down non porous flooring this time,” said resident Dr. Frank Walker, who’s home flooded.
We found one resident, Ray Batey helping his neighbor clean up mounds of seaweed marking the High water at his house.
He too rode out the storm.
“It was kinda terrifying. I’ve never been through one before,” said Beaty. “But it was calling for a two and then they said a three. After they said four, it was too late for us to go.”
Back in the state Capitol, Governor Rick Scott was urging residents to go online for recovery information: FL Sert, or FlGov Scott on Twitter, but he acknowledged many couldn’t.
You know, we’ve been working to get the power back on,” said Scott. “We’ve been talking to the telecom providers to get back up,. We’re going to do it as quickly as we can.”
The Governor also urged patience during the recovery.
At least four people died in Gasden County, where at least two tornadoes touched down.
A fifth death is unconfirmed.

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Shelters Open in Capital as Hurricane Micheal Inches Closer

October 9th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
President Donald Trump has officially signed a pre-landfall emergency declaration.
It will allow for the Federal Government to quickly provide aid and resources to 35 Florida counties under a state of emergency as Hurricane Michael barrels towards the Florida Panhandle.
Panhandle residents began seeking shelter mid-day Tuesday, in the State’s Capital city.
At Lawton Chiles High School, one of 6 shelters opening in the county, some storm refugees began arriving before doors officially opened.
“Considering that they were opening today I figured I’d better get in while the getting is good,” said Tallahassee resident William Holman.
Some residents are wresting with whether or not to leave their homes.
“Soon as some of the tropical storm winds hit, that’s enough for some people. They just look outside and say I’m ready to go. Some will wait until the winds get stronger, as in they can trees waving, kind of bending like they shouldn’t be,” said Chiles High Principle, Joe Burgess.
The shelter is the only one that is pet friendly.
The governor put a high emphasis on the potential for storm surge, urging residence in coastal areas and flood zones to evacuate.
“Every family must be prepared now. Remember, we can rebuild your house, but we cannot rebuild your life. Take this seriously and keep your family safe,” said Governor Scott.
Traffic headed eastbound on I-10 was busy, but flowing as evacuees from the western part of the panhandle, like Panama City resident Chris Shelton heeded the Governor’s warning.
“Take the important stuff with you and get out. If the Governor is saying that it’s time to go, it’s time to go,” said Shelton.
In the face of disaster, Shelton say’s he’ll be spending the hurricane at Disney World.
“You know, give you a lemon, make lemonade,” said Shelton.
Officials are urging residents to seek shelter sooner, rather than later.
President Donald Trump has officially signed a pre-landfall emergency declaration.
It will allow for the Federal Government to quickly provide aid and resources to affected counties.

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Governor Tours the Panhandle, Preparing for Michael

October 9th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
The first impacts from Hurricane Michael are just hours away, and Governor Rick Scott was traveling the state Tuesday, warning of the storms dangers.
By one o’clock, Scott had visited three emergency operations centers.
His message was one of pending danger and preparedness.
“Hurricane Michael is a massive storm that could being total devastation to parts of our state,” said Scott.
As Scott spoke at the state EOC, dozens of state and private sector employees worked feverishly to plan for the Michael’s arrival.
“There will be more that needs to get done today than could possibly be done,” said said EOC Director, Wes Maul.
2,000 national guardsmen have been called up, and the highway patrol sent 300 troopers to help in the panhandle.
“If the storm hits in Panama City, the Tampa area would still see life threatening storm surge. You can not hide from storm surge,” said Scott.
Except for emergency services, most state and local offices closed.
Tuesday was supposed to be the last day to register to vote, but some counties closed early, and would be voters in those counties can go back the first day that office is open to register for the November election.
The Capital is expecting massive utility outages because of its tree cover.
Under New protocol since Hermine in 2016, the city has mutual aid agreements with all of the investor owned utility’s.
Crews from as far away as Tampa Electric were on their way.
“Any day of the week you got ninety lineman who supply our system. You’re talking now six times that number,” said Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
Both Scott, who is running for the US Senate, and Gillum, who is the Democratic nominee for Governor have suspended their campaigns for now.
Both the US Senate and Gubernatorial races are close, and in a tight election, both Scott’s and Gillum’s performances could be the deciding factor in November.

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GOP Hits Gillum Over Hurricane Response As Michael Gains Strength

October 8th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Gubernatorial Candidate Andrew Gillum cancelled his campaign events in South Florida, Monday and is back home preparing for Hurricane Michael.
He has been criticized by the GOP for not getting power on quickly enough after Hurricane Hermine, so now Gillum has the chance to prove the criticism wrong or right.
Democratic Nominee Andrew was highly visible, checking in at the local Emergency Operations Center and touring a new electrical substation being fired up for the first time.  t
“And should there be any disruption in the system, it will be in place to activate immediately so that we don’t have disruption, particularly amongst our highest critical need area, the hospital,” said Gillum.
Following Hermine In 2016, Gillum sparred with Govenor Rick Scott  as power restoration lagged
“So, whatever we’re doing, we’ve got to do something different,” said the Governor in 2016.
“We’ll cooperate in am manner in which we are respectful to the roles each of us has to play,” said Gillum Monday.
The Republican Party of Florida has been running two spots critical of how Gillum handed that power outage.
The timing of the two ads couldn’t be better.
Now Andrew Gillum has the chance to prove them wrong or right.
And the Mayor is asking for help more more publicly than he did two years ago.
We’ve requested some 600 assets. That is a tripling of the assets we had available in the aftermath of Hermine,” said Gillum.
This time around, Gillum says he and Governor Scott have talked about the city’s needs more than once.
The Mayor is telling people dependent on electricity to consider riding out the storm somewhere else.

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Tallahassee Prepares for Hurricane Michael

October 8th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The number of counties under a state of emergency has grown to 35.
Emergency preparations are underway across the Florida Panhandle as now hurricane Michael barrels towards North Florida.
Less than 24 hours after Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 26 Florida counties, residents of the state’s capital were already filling sand bags.
“In July when I was out of state my garage flooded for the first time, the house is 26 years old,” said Tallahassee resident Gwen Spivey.
Mayor Andrew Gillum urged residents to flee if they’re not prepared to deal with expected power outages.
In 201 Hurricane Hermine, a category one storm knocked out power for a week or more in the city.
“If you are electricity dependent, we would encourage you to make some decisions around, where you want to ride out this storm,” said Gillum.
Lines at gas stations remained long throughout the day as many residents seemed to agree that getting out of town might be the best move.
“Probably the safest place for me is Jacksonville. Not Mobile because it might even go that way,” said Tallahassee resident Searcey Bush.
Schools are closed through at least Thursday.
FSU and FAMU announced they will be canceling classes for the rest of the week, meaning many students will likely be taking to the roads to escape the storms path.
“I think all of my friends are either trying to go home or go north,” said FSU student Mackenzie Brennan.
“I’m thinking about either going to Atlanta or Jacksonville. I’m not sure which one yet,” said another student, Justin Lindholm.
For residents in nursing homes, the Florida Healthcare Association says the tragic deaths following Irma won’t be repeated.
“Every single nursing home in the state of Florida has a plan in place,” said FHA Executive Director, J. Emmett Reed.
Reed says nursing home residents or families of residents can keep updated on storm plans by going to their facility’s website.
Michael would be the third storm to hit the Capital in three years… following a 30 year hurricane free run.

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