Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Hernando residents, businesses still dealing with flood's aftermath

BROOKSVILLE — Her hands stained black, Helen Vizcarrondo sat in the corner of her mother's dank mobile home and pulled knickknacks from a shelf. She carefully wrapped each one in newspaper and placed them in a pile.

Two days earlier, Vizcarrondo arrived to find that floodwaters had inundated the singlewide trailer in the Southway Villa Mobile Home Park off Barnett Road. Mud coated the carpet that sat on buckled plywood subfloors. A musty stench hung in the area.

Vizcarrondo spent hours using a hair dryer to try to save family photos, and took the urn containing her father's remains to her own house in Spring Hill. By Monday, she and a helper had piled ruined furniture and other belongings at the curb.

Vizcarrondo's mother, Barbara Wright, a 78-year-old widow, was visiting her sister in Kansas and suddenly didn't have a home to come back to.

"It brought tears to my eyes," said Vizcarrondo, 48. "My father worked his entire life for this. It might not be much to some, but it was everything to them."

Nearly a week after a massive storm cell parked over the Brooksville area, residents, business owners and county officials are still coping with the aftermath. The storm dumped more than 3 inches of rain — substantially more in some areas — in a few hours. In some locations, the flooding was worse than what Tropical Storm Debby wrought last year.

By Tuesday, officials had confirmed half a dozen homes that sustained major damage or were destroyed by floodwaters, all of them in Southway Villa, said Cecilia Patella, Hernando County emergency management director. About 45 had at least minor flood damage.

That list is sure to grow.

"Quite a few homes are underwater or inaccessible," Patella said. "It might be awhile before we have a final number."

The tally did not include any property in the Camper's Holiday Travel Park on Culbreath Road, the other of the county's hardest-hit neighborhoods. On Monday, county building inspectors affixed 20 bright-red stickers on doors of homes swamped by nearby Sparkman Lake. "UNSAFE," the stickers said. "DO NOT ENTER OR OCCUPY."

The stickers mean inspectors found significant flood damage, county building official Wayne Smith said.

Norm States, the park association president, said many of the owners are part-time residents who live out of state. Neighbors are trying to pitch in to help absent owners in the race against mold.

"Anything they want us to do, we'll help," States said.

Patella said it doesn't appear that other counties suffered enough damage to meet the threshold required for state officials to petition President Obama to declare Florida a disaster area. That means Federal Emergency Management Agency grants to help local governments and private citizens pay for damage probably won't be available.

Patella will also ask state officials to help make available low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

"We want to make sure we pursue everything that might be available to us," she said.

• • •

As the rain came down Thursday, rising water overtook two motors and an electrical panel at a sewage lift station on Cortez Boulevard in Brooksville, just east of Candlelight Boulevard.

The motors were out of commission for about five hours, causing about 396,000 gallons of wastewater to mingle with the floodwaters, said Dick Radacky, Brooksville's public works director. The wastewater traveled into nearby Horse Lake Creek, then to Horse Lake, about a mile to the southwest.

City officials reported the spill to the state Department of Environmental Protection and conducted sampling in the creek that showed elevated fecal coliform levels, a DEP spokeswoman said.

Hernando County Health Department officials visited the site Friday morning and concluded that the risk to public health was minimal because there are no wells in the immediate vicinity and the wastewater flowed into an unpopulated area, said Nina Mattei, emergency planner for the Health Department.

"If residential areas had been much closer or had individual drinking wells, it definitely would have been a concern," Mattei said.

The flooded lift station was one of many storm-related problems that kept city and county public works officials busy.

The rain forced the closure of more than a dozen stretches of road in the city and county. A section of Fort Dade Avenue washed away and needed to be repaired, said Clay Black, the county's stormwater engineer.

By Tuesday, only a few were still impassable, Black said.

The storm provided the first major test for the Peck Sink project, which was completed earlier this year. The network of berms, ponds and pipes, which is designed to filter pollutants from stormwater flowing into sinkholes near Wiscon Road, was submerged by Thursday night. By Tuesday, the floodwaters had receded enough for officials to see that the $2.3 million project held up well, Black said.

"It seems to be functioning just as it was designed to," he said.

The drainage systems at two shopping centers at Cortez Boulevard and Broad Street worked as well as could be expected, Radacky said, but they weren't enough to keep water from inundating half a dozen storefronts.

On Monday, fans pushed air onto damp furniture at Rent-a-Center, where 2 inches of water covered the floor after the storm. It was a similar scene in the furniture department at Big Lots, on the other side of Broad.

At the Save-A-Lot grocery store next door, floors covered by ankle deep water Thursday gleamed again. The water didn't ruin much merchandise because most everything sits on shelves or pallets, but the store closed Thursday evening and didn't reopen until Sunday morning, manager Steve Rees said.

"We did lose a lot of time and sales," Rees said.

• • •

Back on Woodland Drive, Vizcarrondo said her mother is still coming to grips with the reality of damage that is being reported to her from 1,200 miles away.

She still doesn't have a long-term plan, but rebuilding on the same lot doesn't seem wise, Vizcarrondo said.

"What's to stop it from happening again?"

Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.

   
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