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Watching, waiting as waters rise

Deo Kirkman resented the Southwest Florida Water Management District when she was building her home on Shorewood Drive five years ago.

Representatives from the agency told her to raise the lot 6 feet, meaning she and her husband were stuck with the cost of trucking in 170 loads of sand.

On Monday, though, she could watch Lake Geneva spread across her yard and be pretty sure it would not reach her house _ thanks to the Swiftmud requirements.

"I didn't like them then, when we were paying for it," she said. "I want to kiss them now."

Kirkman was one of thousands of Hernando County residents keeping a wary eye on water levels Monday, after Hurricane Jeanne dropped 4 to 6 inches of rain on eastern Hernando County.

Coming shortly after several heavy rains this summer _ especially the 9 inches from Frances _ the storm is expected to cause some of the Withlacoochee River's worst flooding in recent memory.

High waters have already closed several roads and inundated homes in low-lying areas, said Brenda Frazier, the county's community relations coordinator.

And the river is still rising.

The coast has also been hit by flooding _ from a storm surge that pushed the gulf's waters over several roads early Monday. Though this water did not linger and did not flood homes, it has severely damaged the beach at Pine Island.

The Withlacoochee River basin, like many others in Central Florida, was saturated by the time Jeanne passed through Sunday.

"The rain (fell) in the area that could least afford to take the rain," said John Feldt, the hydrologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service's Southeast River Forecast Center in Georgia.

"The same river basins have been hit over and over again with heavy rain."

Said Swiftmud spokesman Michael Molligan:

"The whole river is above flood stage."

The Withlacoochee reached 15.9 feet Monday morning at the gauge in Trilby, where flood stage is 12 feet. It is expected to crest at 16.9 feet on Wednesday morning and to remain well above flood stage for the rest of the week, Molligan said.

That is far below the all-time record of 20.38 feet in 1934, and below the floods in March of 1960.

But it is slightly above the highest level reached during the El Nino season of 1997-98.

It will also be just above the river's crest, 16.3 feet, in September 1960, after Hurricane Donna.

It is certainly higher than Glen Spicer has ever seen it.

Spicer, who moved to the flood-prone Talisman Estates mobile home park two years ago, said the water on Tiger Street was below his driveway Sunday night. By the time he woke up on Monday, his driveway was hidden under the dark-brown water, which was lapping at the middle of the fence in front of his yard.

His house, which is elevated several feet above his yard, should be safe, he said. His neighbors' likely will not be. Water covered Reynolds Road, which leads into Talisman. It had also swamped the yards of mobile homes on Tiger and Tarzan streets, which lead down to the river.

Spicer pointed out that, on several occasions, the river was close to the exterior stripe of trim that marks the level of the mobile homes' floors. With 3 or 4 more inches of water, he said, all those homes would be flooded.

"They are really going to get it this time," he said. "It's going to be in their homes."

Several roads outside of Talisman had been flooded as well, especially in Ridge Manor and in and around Brooksville. These included Cyril Drive, Citrus Way and Rackley, Clayton and Croom roads, Frazier said.

Parts of two other chronically flooded streets, Stonybrook and Lancewood drives in Sherman Hills, were also under water Monday. The flood water had flowed into the garage of one resident, neighbors said, and would reach the living area of his house unless the county intervened.

"This is a disaster and (the county) has not done a damned thing about it," said Mary Lee Barradas, who lives in the neighborhood.

In fact, the county placed pumps in the overflowed retention pond at the end of the streets before Jeanne arrived, said Charles Mixson, the county's public works director. Though the pump broke down, the county planned to replace it and possibly bring a second pump, before the end of Monday, Mixson said.

"We were in there with a pump before it started and we're still trying to do as much as we can," Mixson said.

He added that the county has an agreement with a developer of a nearby parcel that should bring a permanent solution to the neighborhood's flooding; the county will install a pumping station to take water from the inadequate drainage area at the end of Stonybrook to ponds on the developer's land.

The county is also facing a big job on the coast.

Jeanne produced a heavy storm surge as it headed over the gulf, covering coastal roads with water and uprooting marine grasses. Crews were still trying to clear grass piles from Pine Island Drive late Monday afternoon.

County officials said they had no way of measuring what the actual storm surge was, but it had been predicted to be as high as 4 to 6 feet.

The beach at Alfred McKethan Park on Pine Island suffered severe erosion and has been closed for emergency repairs indefinitely. Officials said portions of the beach may need to be rebuilt.

"We lost a lot of beach sand," said county Parks and Recreation Department director Pat Fagan. "Pine Island will probably be closed for awhile."

Darryl Sheldon carries bags of ice around toppled trees in front of his home on Azalea Circle in Ridge Manor Monday morning. The trees, which were blown over by Hurricane Jeanne, damaged his home and his wife's Jeep. They, along with many others in the area, were without electricity.

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