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Rain falls everywhere but takes its time leaving South Tampa

TAMPA — A man sloshes home in waders. A couple finds storm water in a family room. A visitor opens a car door and out comes muddy rain.

It's been awfully wet lately in South Tampa.

And it's stayed wet.

City officials say the timing of Sunday's storm didn't help — days after a blinding downpour and during high tide. South Tampa, low, flat and already brimming with water, didn't have room for more.

That day, the rains hit after noon. By 3 p.m., a Bayshore Beautiful rain gauge had already caught 2.8 inches, with more clouds looming. Retention ponds backed up from Thursday had trouble taking more runoff.

One tow company estimates it pulled 100 vehicles from flooded streets last week. Even on a dry Monday morning, the trucks hauled water-damaged vehicles from mud-smeared streets.

Justin Rosen had left his Subaru Impreza parked in front of a friend's house at the corner of Barcelona Street and Malijo Avenue in Palma Ceia.

"Within 30 minutes to an hour, it was already flooded," said Rosen, 26.

Water eventually rose half-way to the steering wheel. On Monday, the car wouldn't start.

The recent storms are typical for Tampa Bay summers. They're just hitting a little later than usual, said Bay News 9 chief metrologist Mike Clay.

But South Tampa has a few unique issues, explained Tampa Public Works Director Irvin Lee.

First, it's low and flat. Gravity can't help the water drain.

Second, high tides interfere with drainage into the bay.

Lastly, consecutive downpours overburden already filled canals and ponds.

"I empathize with them," Lee said of residents frustrated with flooding. "This has been a pretty wet month."

The city does have storm water improvement projects in the works. In August, officials broke ground on a $4.8 million project to alleviate flooding in an area bounded by Bayshore Boulevard and MacDill, Chapin and Coachman avenues through the construction of a new pump station, the replacement of undersized storm water pipes and other improvements.

Another major project, around Dale Mabry Highway near Neptune Street and Henderson Boulevard, has been discussed several times during the past decade but was killed because of the cost, the technical challenges and the impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

That neighborhood was among the most heavily flooded in the latest rains, according to tow truck driver Raymond Pierson, who hauled Rosen's Subaru out of Palma Ceia on Monday.

"One of the other guys was working in almost waist-deep water," said Pierson, a driver for B & D Towing & Recovery Inc.

When it pours, Tampa tow companies put all their trucks on the road. Stepps Towing estimates they've towed 100 vehicles — most on Thursday.

Some are exasperated by what they've seen.

"People think their cars are kayaks and they can take them out on the water," said Larsen's Towing owner Bob Larsen.

Palma Ceia resident Tom Rockey, 66, watches it all from his front yard.

He's lived on Palmira Avenue for 14 years and has a routine. Each summer, he and his wife Janet carry knee-high wading boots in their cars. They park down the street and walk home.

"It's a bit of an inconvenience," he said. "But it's something you learn to live with."

After the rain, they sometimes sit outside in lawn chairs "and watch the crazies try to traverse the road," he said.

"People think they're driving submarines," he said. "It's kind of humorous."

But he feels bad for neighbors at the intersection of Palmira and Malijo Avenue.

Steve Newsom, 52, and his partner live in a split-level home. Their garage and family room are level with the street, unlike many of the neighboring houses, which are elevated.

The lower rooms flood repeatedly, Newsom said. His $3,000 custom sofa has water damage. Water ruined his record collection. He's lost a lawn mower, weed trimmer, washer and dryer.

"There's really nothing we can do," he said. "With the market like it is, it's not really an option to sell."

Times staff writer Patty Ryan contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at

Rain falls everywhere but takes its time leaving South Tampa 09/26/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 9:54am]
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