Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Pasco retirement village evacuated while thousands of others allowed to return to their homes

NEW PORT RICHEY — For many, Wednesday was a day of relief as county authorities lifted the mandatory evacuation order for more than 7,000 homes and businesses in southwest Pasco, where the deluge from Tropical Storm Debby had caused severe flooding of the Anclote and Pithlachascotee rivers.

For others, it was a day of heartache and worry, as pockets of flooding throughout the county remained treacherous.

In Port Richey, more than two dozen residents at a retirement village were evacuated by airboat, some frail and on oxygen tanks, carrying a few bags and their pets.

Suncoast Gateway Mobile Village had been flooded since Sunday, the roads inside filled with murky thigh-high water. But many residents said their homes were dry and most spent recent days hunkered down, refusing to go to a shelter. They woke Wednesday thinking everything was fine. Debby was done with Florida. The water began receding. The sun was out.

"Thank you, Jesus," Frances Long said she prayed that morning.

But park manager Amanda Parisi said all was not well.

"I have electrical boxes under water," she said.

She made the decision to cut the power off to the park. Those without other places to stay were taken to the Mike Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter in Hudson.

"You guys all okay?" Parisi said, leaning through the door of a bus loaded with residents headed to the shelter. "I'll come up there and visit you, I promise."

Many residents chose to stay in their homes, even though they would be in the dark, without air conditioning, refrigerators or stoves.

"I can't believe they decided to wait until the worst was over to say, 'Hey, we're going to evacuate you,' " said Long, who moved to the village in February from Arizona with her husband. They said the water line on Wednesday was 10 inches less than it was the previous day. They were running low on food, but they didn't want to leave their home and truck.

But once the roads are clear, they are packing up and moving back to Arizona.

"If this is just a tropical storm, I don't want to be here in a hurricane," Long said.

It's unclear when the village will have electricity again.

"I won't turn the power back on until the water is gone," Parisi said. "So we will just have to see."

For the thousands of homes in the evacuation zone in southwest Pasco, much of the power was restored Wednesday.

"We are hopeful we can get people out, home and self sufficient," said J.J. Johnston, Pasco's emergency management operations coordinator.

That's not to say the county is out of the woods: Several roads remained submerged Wednesday evening and some had limited access to residents, including Ridge Road from U.S. 19 to Leo Kidd Avenue in Port Richey.

Residents were warned they might have to park on dry land and walk to their homes. Although the depth of the Anclote River is steadily decreasing — it was 24 feet Wednesday, down 2 feet from Tuesday but still above the 20-foot flood level — it was strong and swift.

"This is very dangerous water," said Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco, as he stood near the overflowing current in Elfers Wednesday.

Pasco County's emergency shelter at Chasco Elementary School in New Port Richey was closed Wednesday, with remaining citizens unable to go home transported to the Fasano shelter. More than 60 residents were there Wednesday evening. Steve Chance, owner of Stormies Too restaurant in Hudson, donated 100 hot meals of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans to the evacuees.

"It was something that had to be done," said Chance, who owns a house in Holiday that also flooded. He said feels awful for all of the storm victims.

"I wish we could do more for them," he said.

Jill Weidel stayed the night at the shelter Tuesday. On Wednesday, the 84-year-old woman grabbed her bags and headed for the door. She just learned she could return to her house in Millpond Estates in New Port Richey.

"It's nice knowing there are people around who care," she said of the kindness she received at the shelter. "But I am ecstatic that I am going home."

Times photographer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.

 
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