PORT RICHEY — The baby blue Bronco plowed through the flooded street where lesser cars sputtered and died.
"Here comes my wife," said Jeffrey Borth, as he waited in his own Bronco on Wednesday afternoon after heavy rain caused flooding in pockets of west Pasco. "I got that truck for $400 and put it together for her."
The heavy rains that pounded Pasco County on Tuesday and Wednesday left a number of roads submerged and impassable, unless you had the right kind of vehicle. Firefighters and deputies began knocking on doors in the Gulf Highlands neighborhood at daybreak to offer assistance to residents, although there were no mandatory evacuations Wednesday.
People in about 10 homes asked for assistance getting out, said Jim Martin, director of emergency management for Pasco County. A few homes had water inside, he said.
The pockets of flooding were scattered throughout the county. The water was a foot deep at Oak Springs RV Park off Scenic Drive. Parts of County Line Road were under water. But Gulf Highlands was the worst hit.
"If you don't have a car like this, you're stuck," Borth said with pride. This was proof of his niche passion: a Bronco enthusiast, saving and restoring the decades' old beasts. He sliced through the high water zones like they were puddles.
Borth and his 6-year-old daughter, Amber, spent the day patrolling the roads for stranded cars and shuttling people inside flood zones. His Bronco is an '86, black with a maroon stripe, and he bought it online for $800 in February. The doors are heavy and the cab sits high. There are no steps to get inside.
"Just grab on to anything," he said to a passenger crawling in. "It'll hold."
Borth rolled down the back window, and Michelle Spencer crawled in the rear. He always calls her his wife, but they're not really married. They work on their Broncos together. They have four of them.
"Broncos were the SUV before there was an SUV," Spencer said.
"They don't make 'em anymore," Borth said.
He took her through the flooded area on Coventry Drive so she could get her Kia, then turned around and made his way back up the street. He stopped near a stalled red Mercury that he had pushed out of the floods earlier. He rolled down his window.
"Not yet, huh?" he said.
"No, it needs a spark plug," said a woman. The hood was up and a few guys were checking it out.
Down the street, a half-dozen people made bets on which cars would get through. No one seemed worried about the water, which lapped onto lawns but didn't reach any front doors.
"I'm worried about beer. We don't have enough beer," said Lennox Aquhart, 62.
David Thoden, 46, stood on the curb in his blue swim trunks. He said his girlfriend delivers newspapers for the Tampa Tribune and when she tried to come home at 5 a.m. that morning, she couldn't get through the water. So she had to park and walk several blocks in the dark.
"She was soaked and scared," said Thoden, a pyrotechnician who said he helped push eight cars to dry ground that morning.
Some people chose to stay in their homes, even though they had no way in or out.
Paul Latham, with the Pasco Office of Emergency Management, urged people to not drive through barricaded streets.
"They are risking their vehicles and their lives," Latham said.
People should also stay out of the water, he said. In some areas, the water swept up trash that had been put out for curbside pickup Wednesday morning.
Borth said he has a plate on the front of his Bronco so he can nudge cars through the floods.
"This one lady, she was in a little Saturn with three kids; she didn't make it 10 feet," said Borth, who pushed her car out of the water.
"I'm just going to keep driving around," he said, "and if people get stuck …
Amber cut him off.
"We have a big Bronco," she said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.