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Hole from flooding closes Lithia Pinecrest Road

Flooding on the Alafia River washed out a main thoroughfare Tuesday, creating a traffic nightmare for suburban commuters that might last for weeks.

A drain under Lithia Pinecrest Road gave way during the second major flood in recent weeks along the Alafia. The collapse opened a crater _ about 7 feet long and 3 feet wide _ on the south edge of the roadway. Another section was caving in Tuesday afternoon on the north side.

County officials said no repairs could be made until the flood waters subside and ground water levels drop after drenchings from hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.

"We literally are going to have to wait on Mother Nature to help us out a little bit," said Steve Valdez, spokesman for Hillsborough County. "We're probably looking at the weekend or next week before we can get in there and do excavations."

The delay is bad news for commuters in east Hillsborough. Nearly 30,000 car trips happen on Lithia Pinecrest daily, according to county estimates. The road is a main artery for subdivisions in Lithia and Valrico, including Bloomingdale and FishHawk Ranch.

"This is the worst place this could happen traffic-wise," said Hillsborough County Sheriff's Lt. Rob Bullara, a Bloomingdale resident who responded to the scene.

Lithia Pinecrest will remain closed between Lithia Springs Road and Coconut Cove Place until Oct. 14 _ or as soon as repairs are made. Traffic has been rerouted from FishHawk Boulevard to Bell Shoals Road to Bloomingdale Avenue and back to Lithia Pinecrest into Brandon.

Law enforcement officials were notifying thousands of residents living near the busy thoroughfare with a reverse 911 call on Tuesday evening, spokesman Rod Reder said.

The erosion occurred at a little-noticed bridge that ferries traffic over a creek that feeds the Alafia. The river crested on Tuesday morning just over 19 feet, about 6 feet above the flood stage, according to forecasters with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

The river is expected to recede below flood level on Saturday afternoon, which would be the earliest repair crews could get to work. Nearby residents, some forced to evacuate their homes because of flooding, shook their heads in disbelief.

"What now?" said Mary Lyons, 40, who had to paddle to her home near the Alafia on Tuesday afternoon. In the last flood, her home was inundated, even though it is raised on stilts. Relatives living next door lost everything. Lyons said, "We're down, but we're not out yet."

Letitia Stein can be reached at (813) 661-2443 or lsteinsptimes.com.

TRAFFIC REROUTED

Lithia Pinecrest will remain closed between Lithia Springs Road and Coconut Cove Place until Oct. 14 _ or as soon as repairs are made. Traffic has been rerouted from FishHawk Boulevard to Bell Shoals Road to Bloomingdale Avenue and back to Lithia Pinecrest into Brandon.

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