Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Weeks after Irma, flooding causes lingering issues in eastern Hernando

BROOKSVILLE — The long, hot days of late summer and early fall have taken their toll on residents without electricity along the Withlacoochee River and others who are dealing with post-Hurricane Irma flooding.

Judy Yates, whose built-up house in Riverdale Estates isn't flooded — but who has lived without warm water for showers and the simple joy of air conditioning for two weeks — has been frustrated by the county's unwillingness to restore power to her home, even though the river level is below her electrical box.

"We built our house to withstand a flood and withstand a hurricane,'' Yates said. "But we didn't build it to withstand bureaucratic red tape.''

Still, Yates realizes she is better off than others. And, now that the county has responded after she contacted Commissioner Steve Champion, she knows there will be relief at some point.

"I'm happy we've made it through like we did,'' she said.

For others who live along the flooded river, there will be no relief, just loss.

Champion said entire neighborhoods that have been inundated with floodwaters will have to be condemned when the Withlacoochee, which remained at moderate flood stage this week, returns to its banks.

County inspectors, who have been busy in other parts of Hernando where recovery is already under way, soon will shift their focus to the destruction along the river. No numbers are available yet on damages, but county officials and private individuals who have taken boats into the flooded areas report houses that nearly have been swallowed by the water.

In some cases, electric meters have been pulled out until the water goes down, County Administrator Len Sossamon said during Tuesday's County Commission meeting. With systems under water, they cannot be energized because of the threat to residents and electrical workers, Sossamon said power companies' attorneys have told him.

Yates said her neighbor was told that the county won't even consider reconnecting power until county inspectors have looked at homes to be sure they are habitable.

"I feel for these people,'' Champion said. "They just want their power turned back on, but it's just not safe.''

Sossamon, along with other county officials, toured some of the riverfront neighborhoods with Congressman Dan Webster several days ago, giving him a firsthand view of the flooding. In some areas, most of the residents decided to ride out the flood, refusing to evacuate.

"There are a lot of areas that are completely isolated,'' said Cecilia Patella, the county's emergency management director. "They don't have a way in or out ... but we can't force them to leave their homes.''

The county has stressed the potential dangers of staying in flooded areas and offered hotels and other assistance, she said, but "it's a personal choice.''

Early in the week, schools superintendent Lori Romano reported that there were still 110 families who could not get their children to school and that schools were continuing to help provide what resources and educational opportunities they could.

This week, as the Withlacoochee continued to slowly recede, the county's administrative policy group voted to continue through early next week the state of emergency first declared as Irma approached Florida. Through the county's emergency management office and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, work is ongoing to identify individual needs and begin working toward recovery.

Both FEMA and county building department representatives have been meeting with residents this week to answer questions and provide assistance.

Another area that has been without power because of flooding is the Imperial Estates Mobile Home Park, west of Broad Street on the north side of Powell Road, south of Brooksville. The park has flooded previously. Officials face the same problems with restoring problems there because electric services are under standing water.

County emergency management officials have responded to the park to provide assistance.

Also on Tuesday, the County Commission approved debris removal on private roadways, with requests from the community associations that represent those neighborhoods.

Countywide collection of storm debris on public roads began last week, starting on the east side of the county, where damage was worst. Crews are working their way west, with about 50 percent of the first pass finished, said Scott Harper, the county's solid waste services manager.

Two passes across the county are planned. The last pickup on the east side will happen after the Withlacoochee has receded and storm debris from that damage can be hauled out, Harper said.

People with questions about storm debris may contact Harper's office at (352) 754-4112.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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