SPRING HILL — Cheryl Licht fled her dream house Sunday night as a driving rain fell and floodwaters splashed just below her swollen belly.
Up ahead, her husband, Dan, carried their 17-month-old daughter, Allie, in a car seat above his head as he waded to his brother-in-law's waiting Toyota SUV. Their Lab mix, Smokey, had to be carried, and Charlie, their boxer, paddled much of the way.
As the Lichts made their escape, floodwaters from Tropical Storm Debby invaded the family's yellow ranch house on Segovia Street. The couple bought 25-year-old fixer-upper as newlyweds eight years ago and have spent thousands to renovate it. Dan, 33, recently finished the periwinkle nursery, in anticipation of the arrival of their second daughter, Paxton, on Aug. 21.
"Now I guess we'll have to start again," said Cheryl, 31.
The Lichts are among many Hernando County families picking up the waterlogged pieces of their lives this week as Debby's high waters recede.
Theirs was the only house in the neighborhood near the corner of Barclay Avenue and Spring Hill Drive to suffer water damage beyond the garage. They don't have flood insurance. An insurance adjuster who told them nothing would be covered also said he wouldn't have thought they needed insurance, either.
The couple doesn't have much in the way of savings. Dan, 33, is a firefighter/paramedic for Spring Hill Fire Rescue. Cheryl, a first-grade teacher at Moton Elementary School in Brooksville, recently took her summer lump-sum paycheck to take care of another debt. A contractor has estimated that demolition work and repairs could cost them as much as $75,000.
Still, the Lichts feel like they are among the luckiest of the unlucky.
They have a small army of family members, friends and Dan's co-workers. And on Monday morning, the army got to work in a race against mold.
They pulled out furniture that could be salvaged and moved it to relatives' homes in Spring Hill. They yanked out carpet and pulled up hardwood flooring. They sliced through interior walls, stripping them to the studs from the baseboard to about chair-rail height.
By Wednesday, the house sat in limbo, no longer ruined from 3 feet down, but still not made whole again.
Massive fans sitting on the concrete sub-floor roared throughout the house. Above, designer ceiling fans with glass light fixtures whirled as stylish reminders of the previous renovation.
In the kitchen, Dan's old firefighter gear shared a high and dry decorative shelf with antique fire extinguishers and a wooden Buddha statue above hard oak cabinets handmade by Cheryl's father. They hope the lower ones can be salvaged.
In Allie's room, the "giving tree" painted onto the wall, modeled after the Shel Silverstein book, had been sliced mid-trunk, but the little boy climbing the tree remained in his rightful place under the green leaves. So did the motto painted in gold, fancy letters: And the Lichts were happy.
Firefighters who work second jobs in construction, or who have contacts in the industry, landed deals on drywall and insulation. It's on the way.
People have offered toys to replace Allie's ruined ones. A fellow congregant from Spring Hill Bible Church, where Dan is a deacon, mowed their lawn. And a family member started a Web page for donations. By Thursday afternoon, 32 contributors had chipped in a total of nearly $1,400.
The 1998 Springstead High graduates, who are staying with Cheryl's parents in Spring Hill, called the response overwhelming.
"It's amazing," Dan said as Allie, a brown-eyed, apple-cheeked girl with honey-colored hair, squirmed in his arms. "I don't know what we would have done."
Spring Hill Fire Rescue Capt. Tim LaRoche helped get the word out about the Lichts' predicament.
"They're always willing to help other people," LaRoche said, "so it was an easy choice for everybody to pitch in and do everything we could."
Some things are gone forever. Original photos of Dan and his late grandfather, and blankets inherited from his grandmother, couldn't be salvaged.
The couple is still not sure if Cheryl will be able to take a year off work after Paxton is born as they had planned.
But now they have at least some hope that their dream house will be ready for her arrival.
"We need a place for her to go," Cheryl said, smiling as she rubbed her belly. "We just hope she doesn't come early."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]