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Utilities struggle to recover gains lost to Jeanne's rains

(ran East edition)

Much of the work that Mother Nature and some strategically placed pumps did to eliminate flooding over the past three weeks was undone in dramatic fashion by Hurricane Jeanne.

"Five and a half inches of rain will do that," said Richard Sliz, Pasco's emergency management spokesman. "All the headway we made, we lost it."

Wet spots all over east and central Pasco that had been drying out since Frances three weeks ago were wet again Monday. The day after Hurricane Jeanne, storm-weary residents took stock of how much progress was lost.

"The water's not as high as it was during Frances," said Andy Swank, who lives near the still-standing water on Baker Road in the Carpenter's Run community. "But it's a lot higher than it was before Jeanne. We're almost back to where we were."

Swank's neighborhood lost power Sunday and regained it early Monday. After trying to find and buy a generator for two storms, Swank finally got one just in time for Jeanne.

In Zephyrhills, at Southport Springs off Chancey Road, 12 of the golf course's 18 holes have been unplayable for weeks. Even after two or three weeks of receding water, what were once long green fairways are still all water hazards.

The tee to the third hole is right next to Bill Cook's home. The men's teeing spot is dry. So is the green and the pin, some 185 yards away. In between is water.

"It's maybe 3{ feet deep in some places," Cook said Monday as he gamely drove his golf cart in places where it wasn't meant to go. In some areas on the north end of the Southport Springs property, water runs like a river heading south. Along the 12th hole, a sand trap is still recognizable, but it is immersed in several feet of running water.

Cook and his neighbors are trying to keep their sense of humor. Cook reported that playing the same six holes does not necessarily make those holes any easier.

The water in Southport Springs has gone down a little. Sliz said the county had two pumps in that area working to send water into the Indian Creek area where it then flows into the Hillsborough River.

Despite the pumping, some water from Southport Springs has been flowing right across Chancey Road. That's where John Harrison lives.

Harrison got tired of waiting for his property south of Chancey Road to drain off more than a foot of standing water. He and his wife, Sue, moved into a camper less than a mile from their home along Sandy Drive.

It wasn't just the water that drove them out.

"Now I've got trees falling in my yard," Harrison said. "When trees stand in water for that long, they just fall over. I'm waiting for one to fall on my trailer any day now."

He figures it will take several weeks for the water to drain off his property. But he has said that before. Then another storm dumped yet more water.

"It just wears you down after a while," Harrison said.

Bob Anderson thought the county pump might do the trick in his neighborhood along Tammy Lane. Then the pump stopped working. And then, Hurricane Jeanne arrived.

The water from a retention pond behind his two-story home had spread to cover neighbors' properties and to flood the bottom floor of Anderson's home. The constant pumping pushed the water out beyond Anderson's home. That progress ended when the pump malfunctioned.

One of the concerns in the Tammy Lane area is that the flooding worsens in the days after the rainfall, as the water from surrounding communities moves and seeks the lowest level.

"You know, water isn't the concern now," Anderson said. "We got no power."

The area lost power Sunday morning, and more than 24 hours later, it was still out.

Power restoration ground forward slowly Monday, with many crews restricted to what they called "demolition" work: clearing snapped lines snarled in tree limbs. Progress Energy reported 61,000 Pasco County customers without power at its 3 p.m. update. That was only 1,000 customers fewer than the 62,000 customers reported at 5 a.m.

Tampa Electric Co. had 7,000 households without electricity in Pasco, most clustered in the Dade City and St. Leo areas, where trees played havoc with lines.

Much of Monday was spent in what Tampa Electric spokesman Ross Bannister said was "damage assessment."

"It could take a while and "a while' is open ended," Bannister said Monday afternoon. "I wish it were as easy as snapping your fingers."

Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative had returned power to sections of Land O'Lakes as early as Sunday night. Hundreds in the Lake Padgett Estates East neighborhood cheered as power popped on about 7 p.m. Sunday.

Withlacoochee spokesman Ernie Holzhauer reported that 22,500 Pasco customers were still without power late Monday afternoon. That was down from 43,845 without power at 6 a.m.

"We about cut the number in half within 24 hours," Holzhauer said. "If we have another day like (Monday), we'll be doing pretty well."

Staff writer James Thorner contributed to this report.

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