NEW PORT RICHEY — President Barack Obama late Tuesday declared Pasco County as a federal disaster area following last week's Tropical Storm Debby. The declaration also included four North Florida counties.
The decision makes federal funding available for Pasco residents and property owners affected by the storm and related flooding. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured losses.
"That is going to be direct assistance to the folks out in our community that were hurt," Pasco Emergency Management director Annette Doying said earlier Tuesday, as county commissioners approved an extension of the local state of emergency through July 8.
In addition, Doying said she expected the federal government to declare a "public assistance emergency," and reimburse county government's estimated $4 million in recovery expenses.
Tuesday night's release from the White House said other Florida counties could be added to the disaster declaration and additional forms of assistance could be made available.
Doying said more than 100 Pasco homes were severely damaged or destroyed by the storm, which prompted mandatory evacuations of about 7,000 homes and businesses in southwest Pasco. In the days after the storm hit, county officials estimated it caused $1.5 million in damage to homes and $4 million in damage to businesses. Those figures will likely be much higher when final assessments are completed, but Doying said the county has been focused on tracking exactly how many properties were damaged. She said New Port Richey has an estimated $600,000 in damages.
And while most of the flooding is gone, some low-lying areas are still dealing with high water. One of the most acute problems is the Bass Lake neighborhood, which is on the Bear Creek watershed. Doying said the area was not hardest hit when the storm first arrived, but has been collecting water that drained from other parts of west Pasco.
Stan Shaver owns a rental property on Cameo Drive along Lake Worrell. Along with about a dozen other properties, much of his yard is underwater. Nearby Sunrise Lane is still flooded.
"We don't like the fact that it's taken this long for the water to drain off," he said. "Steps haven't been taken to prevent or alleviate some of that volume."
Shaver said residents would like the county to clear spillways and remove other barriers keeping the water in the area.
County Commissioner Henry Wilson said if workers let the water drain quicker, it would simply flood adjacent neighborhoods. He's already getting calls from residents in Tanglewood to slow the drainage.
"We're between a rock and a hard spot," he said.
Doying said she hopes the water will begin percolating within two or three days.
Another problem: Many of the homes in the Bass Lake area are on septic tanks that are not working because of the flooding. Doying said county workers will soon bring portable toilets to the neighborhood, and possibly portable showers and sanitation stations.
Wilson said he hopes to eventually connect the neighborhood to the county's wastewater system to prevent a similar problem in the future.
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.