Friday, June 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Residents keeping an eye on flooded Withlacoochee in eastern Hernando County

RIDGE MANOR — C.J. Siller is watching the Withlacoochee River with a wary eye.

A branch of the river made an island out of his neighbor's mobile home in the last couple of days, swamping Tarzan Street in Talisman Estates, just north of the Hernando-Pasco county line. By Tuesday morning, the tea-colored water had crept beyond Siller's fence and across his driveway, ever closer to the mobile home he shares with his wife and five children.

If the water reaches a light post near the corner of the home, Siller said, he will take his family and valuables to higher ground.

"I'm a little worried," he said. "I don't want to wait until the water comes because I won't able to back a U-Haul in here without getting stuck."

Siller probably doesn't have much to worry about this time around. As the National Weather Service predicted, the Withlacoochee reached flood stage — 12 feet — at Trilby on Sunday. By Tuesday afternoon, the river was measured at 12.27 feet.

That level of water typically results in minor flooding of areas including Lacoochee, Talisman Estates, Riverdale, River Heights Estates and Nobleton.

Due to small chances of rain over the next few days, the river was not expected to rise much more, if at all, and will likely fall below flood stage by early Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

"We're not expecting anything worse than what (residents) are currently seeing," said forecaster Tyler Fleming.

There were no reports of flooded homes by Tuesday afternoon, said Hernando County emergency management director Cecilia Patella. The river was lapping at the stilts of some homes, though, and had almost swallowed Riverdale's community park.

Heavy rains from tropical storms Debby and Isaac helped etch another notch in the history books for the Withlacoochee, a river prone to drastic fluctuations, depending on weather patterns: Sunday marked the first time the river has hit flood stage since summer 2004, the year of hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.

On Sept. 29 of that year, the river crested at 16.55 feet. Flooding is considered "moderate" between 14.2 feet and 16.5 feet and "major" beyond that.

Eight years is long enough for even longtime residents to become complacent, and for many new residents to move into the area without firsthand knowledge of how quickly the Withlacoochee can rise, Patella said.

Now the river is swollen again and residents need to be vigilant in the coming weeks, she said. Another hurricane, tropical storm, or even several days of heavy rains over the Green Swamp, where the river begins, could result in more serious flooding.

"I would encourage everyone to watch it, at least until we get out of rainy season," Patella said.

Patrick Coney, who lives next door to Siller on Tarzan Street, was hoping to mark the latest flood down as merely a close call. By Tuesday, Coney had to wade to and from his house, the water just two steps below his front door.

"When it gets up to the second step, it's time we start getting stuff up off the floor," he said. "It's time for us to go when it starts easing through the door."

The river isn't the only cause for concern in the low-lying areas of eastern Hernando County. Lakes and ponds that dried up during the drought in recent years are making a comeback.

When William and Lorie Richard bought their single-wide mobile home near the corner of Reynolds Street and Barth Road in January, a nearby pond spanned just 50 feet across and was completely dry a few months later.

Now a full-fledged lake has drowned their fire pit and is seeping toward the corner of their home.

On Tuesday, the Richards were moving some of their valuables to their storage and travel trailers sitting on higher ground.

"We're just going with that good ol' common sense," Lorie Richard said.

Many residents chose to prepare ahead of Isaac, hauling away about 2,400 sandbags from the Ridge Manor Community Center, said center board member John Shoppa.

"Now people have stopped coming to get them," Shoppa said.

Though the county ran out of sand and sandbags at one point after Tropical Storm Debby, the supply has been replenished. The center is at 34240 Cortez Blvd.

Information from Bay News 9 is included in this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.

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