Clark and Judy Brickley knew it was time to leave their lakeside single-wide mobile home on Sunday when water started to lap at their front porch, some 3 feet above the ground.
The couple spent two nights at the Holiday Inn Express near Interstate 75 as Tropical Storm Debby soaked the county. The couple returned Tuesday to Lakeside Mobile Manor, a retirement community on U.S. 41 north of Brooksville, to find about 2 inches of water had seeped into their home.
On Wednesday, a soggy mop stood at attention on the porch next to a pile of wet shoes and a ruined computer printer. The floodwater also ruined an original photo of Clark's late mother.
"That was what hurt the most out of this whole ordeal," said Clark Brickley, 60. "But we know it could have been so much worse."
Under the first sunny sky in days, Hernando property owners and county officials on Wednesday continued to assess Debby's damage and tried to figure out how to deal with it.
• • •
The slow-moving storm dumped nearly 151/2 inches of rain on parts of Hernando County, with wind gusts reaching 40 mph.
By Wednesday morning, two teams of county workers had visited about half of a list of 50 properties where damage had been reported.
Of the properties visited, nine had water intrusion, according to a county media release.
Among the neighborhoods hardest hit was Imperial Estates, a retirement community of mobile homes and travel trailers on Powell Road, just east of U.S. 41, south of Brooksville.
Water invaded 11 homes and trailers there, said Woody Wirtz, whose family has owned the park for more than three decades and has never seen this level of flooding.
There is likely little hope to salvage many of those homes, Wirtz said.
"Once you get a floor wet in a mobile home, it's trashed unless they have plywood floors, which is rare," Wirtz said.
Other residents are unable to gain access to their homes because of flooded roads in the neighborhood. And there is another messy problem: The community's sewage lift station, swamped by the flood, is malfunctioning and leaking into the water, Wirtz said.
In Brookridge, the water that swamped several homes on Brookridge Boulevard had receded enough by Wednesday for at least some residents to walk into their homes. Two submerged cars remained in deep water.
Debby spared communities such as Bayport, Pine Island, Hernando Beach and Aripeka from significant coastal flooding. Alfred A. McKethan Park on Pine Island remained closed as crews worked to repair erosion there.
Spring Hill Drive remained closed east of California Street because of a large lake that formed near the entrance of the Hernando County Detention Center.
"Wow, it's deep there," Doug Chorvat, owner of Crossroads Towing, said Wednesday morning as two of his workers waded into waist-deep water.
The men had already managed to retrieve a Toyota van and a Chevy sedan, but two other cars in deeper water posed a bigger challenge. Somewhere off to the side of the road and completely submerged, Chorvat had been told, was a fifth vehicle.
Officials are using a perimeter road to get to the jail, but that road is also partially underwater and not passable for police cruisers. Prisoners are being booked at the Sheriff's Office in Brooksville, then shuttled to the jail in larger vehicles.
Steve Whitaker, the county's assistant public works director, stood at the edge of the water Wednesday morning and told Hernando sheriff's Capt. James Walker the county was considering a plan to pump water out of a flooded retention pond on the grounds of the Hernando County Airport and into an adjacent drainage area. That could help lower the water level enough to open the jail's main entrance.
"It would get us back whole again," Walker said.
• • •
Several roads in Spring Hill remained closed Wednesday as county officials developed a plan of attack to fix sinkholes in the area.
One of the largest chasms closed a section of Mariner Boulevard near Little Street. County workers and a geo-technical consultant need to assess the extent of the void before starting repairs, and it was still unclear how long the road will remain closed, said county spokeswoman Brenda Frazier.
"I think it's too early to talk about a time frame until they get that testing done," Frazier said.
At Trillium, a community on County Line Road near the Suncoast Parkway, workers used a tractor to dump fill dirt into large sinkholes that had opened up just feet away from homes lining a large drainage retention area.
That's the first step before engineers come up with a plan to mitigate any lingering threat, said Valerie Dolenga, a spokeswoman for builder Pulte Group.
"Today it's all about stabilizing those sinkholes," Dolenga said.
About 10 homes were affected, including two that are vacant and listed for short sale, Dolenga said.
One homeowner told the Times earlier this week that his family had moved temporarily and that he would likely follow them.
Christine Greene and her boyfriend decided to stay. One sinkhole opened in the front yard of their home, which sits on the drainage area.
"I can't say I've been sleeping," Greene said.
Greene has sinkhole coverage, and her insurance company sent out crews to fill in the hole in the front yard and scan the ground with radar. Workers plan to return in the coming days to take core samples, Greene said.
"If worse comes to worst, we'll go to my boyfriend's mother's house," she said. "We do have bags packed."
• • •
On the east side of the county, the Withlacoochee River is well below flood stage and not in any immediate risk of spilling over its banks, according to the National Weather Service in Ruskin.
On Wednesday, the river level at the gauges at Trilby and Croom was less than half of flood stage, and the water is not forecast to rise above that marker by Monday.
The Trilby gauge measured water at 3.6 feet Wednesday afternoon. Flood stage at that location is 12 feet. It is forecast to hit 7.5 feet on Monday and could continue to rise after that.
The water level at the Croom gauge was about 4.25 feet on Wednesday. Flood stage there is 9 feet. The level is forecast to reach about 6.4 feet by Monday and could increase.
Staff writer Danny Valentine and staff photojournalist Will Vragovic contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]