In Tampa, Hurricane Irma didn't seem to pack quite the punch the city expected. But eastern Hillsborough County was a maze of flooded out roads, downed power lines and uprooted trees. Downed oak trees on Downing Oaks Lane knocked out fences and mailboxes. Unmarked cruisers blocked off access to a large, knee-deep lake in the middle of Sydney Dover Road and Downing Street, and most homes in the area have been without power since 5 pm.
Paul Rice wasn't worried how his brick ranch house would fare against Irma — he built it himself in 1978. What did worry him, though, were the debris-filled ditches along the property where his and his son's neighboring homes stand. The ditches were dug by his wife's family in 1924 but have been largely neglected by the county, Rice said.
About 10 Sunday night, on his granddaughter Caitlin's 13th birthday, Rice's worst fears came true. Water began seeping into his garage towards his new freezer and generator. His son's family rushed over to carry items inside as plastic bags full of recyclable cans floated out the garage door and into his front yard. The water seeped into the adjoining mudroom until it was about a foot deep.
"The water didn't start to go down until the kids all ran down to the culvert and started digging out the clogs by hand," said Rice's wife, Levale, as her granddaughter mopped up water from the mudroom. "Thank god Irma was just a Category 1; can you imagine if it came in as anything worse?"
In the light of day, the family could see the extent of the flooding, which extended through their orange groves and into neighboring homes along Downing Street. The grandchildren waded through the lawn, trying to catch tadpoles swimming up the flooded driveway, and played video games on their tablets, plugged into a make-shift phone charger connected to a 10-volt battery.
"Now I guess we just wait for it to go down, not much more we can do," Mr. Rice said.
Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.