Tuesday, May 22, 2018
News Roundup

Debby's damage still keeping New Port Richey couple from their home

NEW PORT RICHEY

Kathy Walden remembers the panicked call from her husband as Tropical Storm Debby bore down on Pasco County a year ago this week. The rain poured and the Anclote River behind their home had burst its banks.

"You need to come home," he told her. "I can't stop the water."

Walden had to wade her way home on Elfers Parkway while 16 inches of rain came down. She and her husband, John, stayed up all night stuffing blankets underneath doors and lifting what they could out of harm's way.

Morning light found them shin-deep in river water, their furniture floating and knocking around the house.

More than 7,000 homes and businesses had to evacuate because of Tropical Storm Debby. Of those, 20 Pasco families were not able to return to their homes, said Annette Doying, the county's director of emergency management.

The Waldens were one of them.

They haven't moved back in yet.

• • •

Kathy and John evacuated for three days with their clothes, some files, a bed and their pets while the storm surge emptied into the Gulf of Mexico. A putrid, wet-rot smell greeted them on their return. They left nearly all of their possessions on the street for the garbage trucks.

Kathy figured they would be back home by August at the latest. But since then, it's been an endless maze of permitting and insurance issues that have led them to a tiny apartment in New Port Richey where they have to live for $960 a month — plus utilities, plus the mortgage on the house.

A flood insurance agent sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized a payment of $63,000 in the first weeks after the storm, but it would be until December before the Waldens saw the money. Kathy Walden said she isn't sure why her bank, Wells Fargo, took so long to put the money through.

They contracted with Bay Area Disaster Kleenup International, which yanked out most of the drywall in the house but backed out midway through the job, she said. In a letter to her bank, DKI said it would be too difficult to get a new building permit on the home. In addition, Pasco County Central Permitting placed a cap on how much the Waldens could spend on renovations because of the home's age.

So they worked out a new plan: They would buy all their own building materials using a $10,000 installment from the bank — the drywall, nails, insulation and flooring — but it was a Catch-22 of sorts because it left them no money for a contractor.

"And all these things add up to a damn year," Kathy said in an interview this week. "It was slow. Just slow. You don't learn these things until you go through it and do it."

The eddy of buying building materials, providing receipts and other paperwork for the permit brought them the rest of the way around the calendar. The permit came through three weeks ago.

They're now living in a nearby apartment with Kathy's 91-year-old mother. Kathy works in customer service at Widell Industries, a mechanical parts manufacturer. John used to work two or three odd jobs a week. But with money tight now, he's taken a job roofing in the hot Florida sun Monday through Friday.

On weekends, they put together the pieces of their lives before the storm.

• • •

The Waldens moved into the cinder-block house 13 years ago, when their sons were 4 and 15. They had a small walkway to the bank of the Anclote, a moss-hung strip of wilderness where they would put in canoes and see manatees and otters. Kathy used to garden here and make driftwood art, back when there was love in this home instead of mold.

The inside now is bare with naked beams in most places instead of walls, the floor ground down to concrete. Kathy's voice echoes in the living room as she talks about the work left to be done. The walls, cabinets and floors have to be in before the bank will give them another installment from the escrow account. She isn't sure how long that will take.

The Waldens plan to sell the home eventually, but with the area's recent classification as a floodway who would buy this fool's paradise?

On Monday morning, the anniversary of the storm, she stopped by the house where a sink and toilets lay in the back yard, near the river, waiting to be put back in the house. A trailer full of lawn ornaments and her driftwood art sits in the driveway for her to pressure-wash. They keep the lawn mowed so the place looks lived-in.

In front of the garage filled with the building materials set to go into the home, Kathy said she misses her life before. She gently touched a dragonfly orchid while she remembered when gardening was her reason for working in the yard. She said she tries to take moments now and again to see things bloom.

Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

   
Comments
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Lightning squanders chance to close out Capitals

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Lightning squanders chance to close out Capitals

The Lightning misses an opportunity to close out the Capitals in Washington, so there will be a Game 7 in Tampa on Wednesday night with a berth in the Stanley Cup final on the line.Andrei Vasilevskiy was fantastic, but the Lightning couldn't match th...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Investigators insist MH370 crash was an accident, not a mass murder-suicide by pilot

Investigators insist MH370 crash was an accident, not a mass murder-suicide by pilot

A despondent Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, troubled over the end of his marriage or some other unbearable sadness, was the only person awake on the doomed plane full of unconscious people, one theory goes. The suicidal pilot disabled communications on Ma...
Updated: 21 minutes ago
Did ex-girlfriend’s Facebook post leak suspension of FSU starter Josh Ball?

Did ex-girlfriend’s Facebook post leak suspension of FSU starter Josh Ball?

A Florida State student from Lithia wrote a Facebook post Monday afternoon alleging the suspension of Seminoles starting offensive tackle Josh Ball.Little else was known a day later, but the details in the since-deleted post are consistent ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa police officers to wear pins noting military service

Tampa police officers to wear pins noting military service

TAMPA — When Tampa police Capt. Calvin Johnson responds to calls, his time in the Army rarely comes up. When it does, people ask him what war he was in, his length of service and where he was stationed.The conversation, Johnson said, changes how peop...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Here’s why there are so many coyotes and why they are spreading so fast

Here’s why there are so many coyotes and why they are spreading so fast

For eons, coyotes roamed what is now the western United States, with its wide-open plains. Then came European settlers, who cut down forests for farms and ranches in a steady east-west march. Along the way, they killed large predators such as pumas a...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Florida’s python hunt bags 1,000th snake

Florida’s python hunt bags 1,000th snake

HOMESTEAD — Florida is marking a milestone in its attempt to control an infestation of Burmese pythons in the Everglades. The state has been paying a select group of 25 hunters to catch and kill the invasive snakes on state lands in South Florida si...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pasco delays take-back of SunWest Park

Pasco delays take-back of SunWest Park

NEW PORT RICHEY – The publicly owned SunWest Park is still in private hands.At least for now.On Tuesday, Pasco County commissioners delayed voting on a plan to take over operations of the publicly owned lakefront park near Aripeka that would have all...
Updated: 1 hour ago
A fake ‘Zombie Outbreak’ alert alarms Lake Worth residents

A fake ‘Zombie Outbreak’ alert alarms Lake Worth residents

Folks around the Lake Worth area were warned of a zombie outbreak early Sunday morning.The alert, issued at 1:41 a.m., was meant to inform residents about a power outage but had been changed to reference the popular AMC television series The Walking ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
FedEx driver, 22, dies in crash on Interstate 4

FedEx driver, 22, dies in crash on Interstate 4

TAMPA — A 22-year-old FedEx driver died Tuesday after a tire blew out on his freight truck on Interstate 4 east of Tampa, sending it into a collision path with a Chevrolet Volt, state troopers said. Two teen girls in the Volt survived the 10:21 a.m. ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Jason Pierre-Paul, Brent Grimes absent as Bucs open OTA practices

Jason Pierre-Paul, Brent Grimes absent as Bucs open OTA practices

The Bucs started another chapter of their offseason Tuesday with the first OTA (organized team activity) practice at One Buc Place, with veterans Jason Pierre-Paul and Brent Grimes as the only healthy players absent from what is officially a voluntar...
Updated: 2 hours ago