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Condo is evacuated for lack of utilities

A 349-unit north beach condominium was condemned and evacuated Wednesday afternoon after city officials learned its residents had been without running water since Hurricane Jeanne blew through on Sunday.

The 12-story tower was also without electricity in sections, meaning the building's six elevators didn't work. That left several elderly residents stuck on higher floors.

Representatives who manage the Regatta Beach Club said they made sure everyone had enough water. But residents expressed frustration as they scurried from the building Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm in the hospitality field, and I was expecting a little of that over the weekend," said Marcia Mihalovich, who lives on the third floor and is working toward a degree at Schiller International University, a Dunedin hotel management school.

"But everyone bailed ship," Mihalovich said. "There was nobody there. There were a couple of security guards, and they were not very helpful."

Clearwater fire Marshal Joel Gray said the city found out Wednesday that condominium residents had been without water and some electricity when a relative of someone who lives in the building called to complain.

City building officials investigated and quickly declared the building uninhabitable.

Because some electricity was out, pumps could not push water to the building's upper floors. Although some outlets worked in the building, residents said, the air conditioning was also on the fritz.

"I'm not a happy camper," said 87-year-old Roberta Stern, one of the last people to evacuate the building.

Stern has lived on the second floor for 30 years, but has never seen anything like this, she said. Until a year ago, the building at 880 Mandalay Avenue had been used for apartments.

Clearwater Beach Development LLC purchased the property and is in the process of converting it into condominiums in a partnership with Crescent Heights, a nationwide high-rise development and marketing company based in Miami.

The building's 349 units have been sold to individual owners, and about 50 percent of them were occupied this weekend, said Cascie Rich, with CMC, the property manager.

"We made sure they were taken care of," said Rich, while her staff members explained the situation to owners just arriving home from work. "We delivered water. We checked on them."

The front desk phone system has also been inoperable since the storm, but Rich said workers called Progress Energy four times each day to see when power would be restored. They were told three days to three weeks, she said.

Progress Energy officials said Wednesday that all power will be restored by midnight Friday.

Resident Wayne Misler said communication with the management staff has been poor.

"They have a telephone system, a funny digital one, that when the electricity goes out, they can't make contact with the outside world, or their tenants," said Misler, who lives on the eighth floor and planned to stay at a hotel on U.S. 19 Wednesday.

His wife, Jean, said the power loss only exacerbated construction concerns already on the property. Windows leaked. Elevators were out of order. The fire alarm system was down.

When the Mislers moved in, they expected the dust and debris. They weren't prepared for Hurricane Jean and its misery.

"I saw old ladies climbing up five flights of stairs," Mrs. Misler said.

Clearwater officials said residents would be allowed to return once electricity and water were fully restored throughout the building.

Mihalovich, who has lived at the beach club for four months, said she hopes conditions improve.

"We need our very own pink hard hats around there," Mihalovich said. "It's not good. Although they smile, they don't respond when people need them to."

An on-scene official with Crescent Heights, the developer on the conversion, referred comments to the company's regional director. That official did not return a message Wednesday night.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at (727) 445-4160 or asharockmansptimes.com.

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