Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Deluge eases, but Pasco officials warn about rising water

NEW PORT RICHEY — The flood water reached waist-deep by midday Monday and the men worried more rain was coming their way. They got out the sledgehammers.

Water had already entered some homes at the Thousand Oaks subdivision in Trinity. One man fished in the street. Girls drifted along on inflatable tubes.

The community is surrounded by a concrete wall. One man started hammering at the bottom and when a hole emerged, water gushed through. Others saw this and got out their hammers. Soon, a group of men had made a dozen holes, the water spilling into a ditch and rising toward Mitchell Boulevard.

"I've never seen it this bad," said Michael Varn, as he watched the water spewing. He's lived here for 11 years. "This is incredible."

Nearly a foot of water from Tropical Storm Debby dumped onto Pasco County Sunday. Low-lying areas of western Pasco were hit hardest: much of U.S. 19 became a terrifying river, people fled their homes, abandoned their cars.

New Port Richey police officers rescued a woman from her SUV, where the swiftly rising water reached her doors. About 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Timothy E. Mitchell, a felon living in Palm Terrace Gardens in Port Richey, reacted angrily to people driving fast on his road, pushing water into his house. He fired his pistol a few times into the ground "to scare people," a Pasco Sheriff's report states, and was arrested on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Also on Sunday night, Pasco jail inmates shoveled dirt into sandbags outside the government center in New Port Richey. Rain flooded the Sheriff's Office administrative building in New Port Richey. The roof of the post office in Elfers blew off.

And then on Monday, there was a break. The sun came out.

"Everybody thinks we are out of it," said Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco. "We are really not."

He said all of the rainwater is slowly headed west and officials are worried about severe flooding in the Anclote River area in the Elfers area.

"Everything is just dripping down that way," Nocco said.

The Anclote River was at 9 feet deep on Saturday, said Eric Keaton, Pasco County public communications manager.

On Monday, it was 20 feet deep, which put it at flood level.

Officials expected it to rise to 23 to 25 feet Monday evening.

"This is a major water event," Keaton said.

There are many homes along the river. Keaton said county officials have warned residents of what could be coming.

"They should leave now while it's still sunlight and not wait for the waters to begin to rise," Keaton said.

Pasco is supposed to get up to 8 more inches of rain in the next few days, said Michele L. Baker, chief assistant county administrator. She said until Debby makes landfall, it's difficult to predict what could happen. The low-lying areas that usually flood will continue to have problems, she said. But they aren't the only vulnerable areas.

"If it rains long enough at your house, it's going to flood," Baker said. "This is Florida."

Residents of the Suncoast Gateway Mobile Village on Ridge Road were painfully aware of that Monday afternoon as Port Richey emergency workers helped them evacuate their flooded streets in boats.

Baker said in addition to flooding, there were many reports of wind damage, downed trees and power outages. But she said there have been no reports of injuries.

Yet.

"It's too easy to say this is over," Baker said. "Never turn your back on a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico."

Keaton said the Mike Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter on Denton Avenue in Hudson is open to people needing to evacuate their homes. He said 38 people stayed there Sunday night.

Monday afternoon, all had left except for six people with special needs, those who needed medical care, such as a steady supply of oxygen or doses of insulin.

Donna Mullens, the special needs shelter unit leader, said the Fasano shelter is the only one in the county equipped to provide extensive medical care.

Kathryn Robinson, 83, needed that care. She owns a home on Idlewild Street in New Port Richey but was taken to Hudson because she's recovering from a broken hip. She said she was turned away from Morton Plant North Bay Hospital because she didn't have an emergency.

She was also asked to go elsewhere because she had Timmie Sue, a 15-year-old cat, with her.

Timmie Sue, who Robinson said looks like "the phantom of the opera" because half her face is black and half caramel, sprawled in a black metal cage in a room set aside for pets.

Times Staff Writer Mary Kenney contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.

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