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Flooded Withlacoochee residents remain upbeat in face of Irma damage

DADE CITY — A goat and five ducks, the last remaining residents of the Withlacoochee River RV Park & Canoe Rental, were evacuated Sunday afternoon.

Because of Hurricane Irma's rainfall, the Withlacoochee River had already overflowed to the point that the park's 15 mobile homes were more accessible by boat than by foot. Water was knee high in some spots and waist deep in others.

And forecasts have the flooding only getting worse in the coming days.

"Going to be lots of damage," said Darryl Brown, 55, whose wife, Jacquilyn Harris, owns the livestock, mobile homes and 5-acre Dade City park on the river's edge. "The floors of the homes need fixing. We'll do it. It'll all work out."

That positive attitude was shared by others who live near the river despite the difficult circumstances they face.

For much of the Tampa Bay area, Hurricane Irma is now in the rearview mirror. Boards are off windows. Fallen trees cleared. Power is being restored.

But for those living along the Withlacoochee near the Trilby gauge at U.S. 301, Irma is still very much a part of their life.

As of Sunday, the river there was observed at 16.79 feet — nearly 5 feet above its flood stage — and is expected to crest at 17.5 feet on Wednesday.

A voluntary evacuation order is in effect for about 4,000 residents living along the river. More than 1,900 properties could potentially flood.

Still, the residents of Talisman Estates — a mix of standard and mobile homes near the Withlacoochee — chose to have fun in the flooded streets Sunday rather than curse the waters.

Teenagers laughed as they paddled canoes and rafts over the road.

Four-year-old Bentley Leonard splashed about and played with a neighbor's dog.

"We're all just trying to make the best of it," said Talisman resident Anne Griggs-Swank, 62. "Tears roll down your face. They don't solve problems."

Griggs-Swank's home in Talisman Estates sits on stilts and is on high enough ground that she doesn't expect it to incur flood damage, even though shallow waters are expected to reach it by today.

Still, fearing she could lose power at any moment and needing a respirator when she sleeps due to her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, she'll stay with a daughter in Zephyrhills.

"If getting mad solved this I'd get mad," Griggs-Swank said. "But it won't."

The threat of floods comes with living along a river, said Brooke Leonard, 25, and mother to the splashing boy.

She resides nearby and outside the flood zone but was checking on her family's rental property — a mobile home located about 20 yards from the river.

The renters are without power but have ample supplies, so they will ride out the flooding even though water already at floor level is expected to rise higher.

Flooding occurs almost annually around this time of year, Leonard said, which is why the rental mobile home is on stilts. Still, the waters have never been this deep, she added, not even during Hurricane Charley in 2004, or gone this far — already nearly two blocks past the river's banks.

The water didn't invade the Withlacoochee's neighborhoods immediately after the hurricane. That occurred in the days after Irma blew through.

"I came back every day to check, and each day there was more water," said Talisman resident Chris Prindle, 23, whose home may be impacted later this week because he thinks the flood could spread another block.

He's currently staying with relatives elsewhere in the area.

As for when the streets could be devoid of water again, the crest is expected to last two days before the river begins to recede.

Jim Sullivan, 51, and whose mother owns the RV park, said from his experience it could then take days, weeks or even months for the land to drain.

"Whatever it is, it is," he said. "We're not going to cry. We'll just get to work."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

Flooded Withlacoochee residents remain upbeat in face of Irma damage 09/17/17 [Last modified: Sunday, September 17, 2017 10:10pm]
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