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Hernando, Pasco assess damage, clean up after Thursday downpour

BROOKSVILLE — As he surveyed the standing water that still surrounded about three dozen homes Friday at Campers Holiday Travel Park, south of Brooksville, park president Norm States shook his head and muttered.

"Well, there's going to be a lot to clean up afterward," States said. "But we've been through it before, and we'll get through it again."

The downpour that hovered over central Hernando and Pasco counties for more than two hours late Thursday afternoon caused widespread damage that had emergency officials scrambling.

Hardest hit were the south side of Brooksville and areas to the south of the city, where high waters flooded streets, homes and store parking lots.

The National Weather Service reported 3.37 inches of rain at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, south of Brooksville. But together with the nearly 2 inches of rain the airport received Wednesday, the cumulative total was more than the area's network of drainage ditches and retention ponds could handle.

Higher rainfall totals were reported elsewhere in Hernando and Pasco, and officials remained concerned over the forecast of additional rain in the coming days.

High waters Thursday forced several people, including Sylvia Highburger, 80, to evacuate to a shelter set up by the American Red Cross at First United Methodist Church in Brooksville.

"It was upsetting," said Highburger, who was rescued by canoe-paddling neighbors from her sister's home near Sparkman Lake south of Brooksville. "The water was rushing, and it was pouring."

As cleanup efforts continued Friday, emergency officials were thankful that things hadn't gotten worse.

Brooksville fire Chief Tim Mossgrove said that the torrent of rain flooded several stores near the intersection of Cortez Boulevard and Broad Street, and almost cost some people their lives.

"We were very lucky," Mossgrove said.

Firefighters performed two swift-water rescues to free people trapped in vehicles, including a man in the Big Lots parking lot on Cortez Boulevard whose car was swept into deep water as he tried to exit the lot.

Some of the city's worst damage occurred in areas that have a history of flooding, including Greenbriar Villa Apartments, off Cortez Boulevard, where power to some units had to be shut off to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.

Angela Mees, an employee at the Brooksville Big Lots, said water inside the store rose above her ankles. Standing outside the front door late Thursday, she pointed inside at furniture and other items that had been moved or knocked over by the water.

"It looks like a disaster," she said.

In Pasco County, the rain was so torrential in Wesley Chapel that the drains couldn't pull it out of the paved outdoor common area at Weightman Middle School fast enough to keep water from flooding some offices and classrooms, assistant superintendent Ray Gadd said.

"It didn't stop us from opening school," Gadd said Friday.

The Pasco school district also had isolated roof leaks on some of its buildings, including at Watergrass Elementary in Wesley Chapel and Gulf High in New Port Richey. Maintenance crews worked into the night making repairs.

Times staff writers Danny Valentine, Alison Barnwell, Lisa Buie and Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report. Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1435.

Hernando, Pasco assess damage, clean up after Thursday downpour 08/23/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 23, 2013 10:58pm]
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