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Pasco residents sift through Debby's damage

NEW PORT RICHEY

Doreen Ferrio walked in her back yard, putrid, watery mud oozing around her feet, and peered into the woods behind her ruined home.

"Hey, Honey," she called to her fiance. "I think I can see our trash can."

Ferrio and her fiance live in Mill Run in a three bedroom, two bath home with a pool and a vegetable garden.

Their neighbors on Rowe Drive survived Tropical Storm Debby with minimal flooding and came home, like many Pasco evacuees did Wednesday and Thursday, thankful to find their homes salvageable.

Ferrio was one of the unlucky ones.

Her house, sitting just slightly lower than her neighbors, became like a rock in the middle of a raging river. The current of storm water hitting their house was so fierce, it dented their garage door, flooded the inside of the home with a foot and a half of water and threw all outdoor debris out back, into the forest, which on Thursday was still a lake.

"Reality is beginning to set in," she said.

Ferrio, her fiance and their five dogs survived. They evacuated by boat to a friend's house.

Ferrio, 45, spent Tuesday and Wednesday crying at her loss.

This was where she raised her children. This was a place she loved, the serene back yard, nice neighbors.

There was no way to save the home, she said, which had filthy sewage water saturating it for days before it receded.

By Thursday, with puddles still inside the house, she couldn't cry anymore.

"I feel numb," she said.

Ferrio had no flood insurance. She said she was told she wasn't in a flood zone and she didn't need it.

She came back Thursday to recover what she could. She brought out a doll she said belonged to her great aunt and was passed down to her. The doll, dressed as a nun, was soaked.

She wanted to try to save it.

"It smells like sewage," she said.

As thousands of Pasco residents focused on surveying the storm's damage and cleaning up their houses and businesses on Thursday, some still could not go home.

"These streets are still impassable," said Frank Jonas, owner of the Suncoast Gateway Mobile Village on Ridge Road in Port Richey.

The retirement community had waist-high water in some roads and was evacuated Wednesday. Even though the power was shut off for safety concerns, about 25 residents decided to stay in their homes, which were still dry.

Jonas said many restaurants have donated food to the storm victims. The evacuees without other places to stay were taken to the Mike Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter in Hudson, which is equipped for pets and for people with medical needs.

The shelter planned to stay open Thursday night. Jonas said he hoped power could be restored and residents could come home today.

"We just need to see the water recede," he said.

And waters throughout the county are receding, officials say. The Anclote River was at a depth of 21 feet, down from 26 feet. The river is expected to dip below flood stage — 20 feet — today.

County crews were still touring neighborhoods Thursday to assess the damage.

Earlier in the week, officials estimated Debby had impacted 106 homes, causing $1.5 million in damages to residential structures and $4 million in damage to commercial buildings.

County spokesman Eric Keaton expects those numbers will be much higher once the assessments are done.

Tarek Kassem, 51, lives next door to Ferrio and on Thursday, braced his house with sandbags. He's lived there for 13 years and never had flooding like this.

He only had a few inches of water in his garage, but he wants to be prepared for next time. He's keeping the sandbags around his house forever, he said.

He'll hide them with flower beds.

"This was a wake up call," he said. It was terrifying, he said, to think he could've "come back to no home," as his neighbors did.

He and his wife were evacuated by airboat on Monday, but their cat, Bebe, wouldn't come out from under the bed.

After they were taken to safety, Kassem rented a car, drove as close as he could to his Mill Run neighborhood and walked through the flood waters to rescue her.

He said Bebe jumped in his arms when he opened the door. She was done hiding.

"I had to come for her," he said.

Another severely hit area was in Elfers, along the Anclote River. John and Kathy Walden lost everything — two cars, their house, their trailer, it was all soaked with flood water and backed up sewage. They both grew up on the river.

"I've been through 20 floods here, but not like this," said John Walden, 53.

Kathy Walden, 52, said the river can be both beautiful and harsh.

But it's a part of them and they intend to stay and rebuild.

"We are young enough," she said. "We can handle it."

Times photographer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6229.

>>sheriff's tips

Be careful with contractors

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office urges residents to be careful when hiring workers to repair their storm damaged homes. Sgt. Charles Troy, supervisor of the agency's economic crimes unit, said unscrupulous people prey on storm victims, offering to do work, asking for deposits and then never coming back to finish the jobs. He offered the following tips for residents:

• Only hire licensed contractors. Check a worker's license by going to MyFloridaLicense.com or by calling (850) 487-1395.

• Be leery of workers going door-to-door offering services.

• Get three bids, check references and get a written contract on the company's business letterhead.

• Pay with a check. Do not pay in cash. Write checks out to the business name.

• Don't pay more than $1,000 on a deposit.

Storm victims "are already in a bad situation. You don't want to make it worse," Troy said, by being a victim of both the storm and then a criminal taking advantage of people in need.

Pasco residents sift through Debby's damage 06/28/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 29, 2012 2:47pm]

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