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Residents of flooded north Tampa apartments get help, but uncertainty looms

Salina Hernandez, 9, holds her chihuahua while her younger sister Chi-na talks Tuesday with Suzanne Kirkman from the American Red Cross at Motel 6 on E Fowler Avenue in Tampa.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Salina Hernandez, 9, holds her chihuahua while her younger sister Chi-na talks Tuesday with Suzanne Kirkman from the American Red Cross at Motel 6 on E Fowler Avenue in Tampa.

TAMPA — Nine-year-old Salina Hernandez grabbed her dog Lu-Lu and skipped across the pebbles at Motel 6.

"The pool is open!" she sang.

"This isn't a vacation!" her mother, Michelle Hernandez, said.

She had seen enough water. It was why they landed at this E Fowler Avenue motel in the first place.

Hernandez, 29, and her two daughters were one of six families who live at the N 15th Street Apartments, where Tropical Storm Debby dumped enough rainfall to leave some units in 3 feet of stagnant water.

Debby hasn't been exactly the storm of the century in Hillsborough County. But it has flooded homes and cars, shut down major roads and knocked trees onto roofs. And at the flood-prone apartment complex in the University area, where a nearby retention pond couldn't handle the Sunday rain, Debby managed to uproot people of already precarious means.

"I'm down to ground zero," said Samuel Knight, 28, who works at a Wendy's restaurant and is taking classes to become a barber.

Knight lives at the complex with his girlfriend, 26-year-old Chavanti James, who is seven months pregnant. They couldn't get back into their unit Tuesday, so they worried about the state of things they left behind: Wendy's uniforms. Baby clothes and diapers. New barber clippers.

"I don't know where we're going to live," said James, as she and Knight stood outside their room at Motel 6.

Their landlord paid for a three-night motel stay for tenants. A representative for the property owner said he expected tenants would be released from their leases due to the extensive damage at the complex.

Akesha Jordan, 32, had to crawl out of her apartment window early Monday morning because of the flooding. She lives at the complex with her children, Tye'son, 12, and Ja'nessa, 9.

They returned Monday afternoon, and she waded through the water to peek through a window. She said she could see the bed floating. Her car nearly disappeared in the water, too.

"It's bad over there. I mean, we've lost everything," said Jordan, who works as a customer service representative.

The complex was one of three in the University area where dozens of residents had to leave due to flooding in their units, said Kel Bartley, a volunteer with the American Red Cross.

Bartley said tracking the tenants had been difficult because most of them stayed with friends or family. No one stayed at the county shelter, Greco Middle School, on Monday night.

After learning about half a dozen families were staying at Motel 6, Bartley and another Red Cross volunteer showed up with food and bottled water. They took names and phone numbers and clothes sizes and said they would assign case managers to follow up with the tenants.

Jordan said she called 2-1-1 on Tuesday. She was going to stop at Metropolitan Ministries and had made an appointment with a charity called Dress for Success. She said she felt like they are starting over with a garbage bag of clothes. "What we have is what we have," she said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374.

Residents of flooded north Tampa apartments get help, but uncertainty looms 06/26/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 11:15pm]
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