Hurricane 2019: Hernando isn’t preparing for one disaster. It’s getting ready for two.

Hernando’s emergency management director has to get ready for two floods: If the west side of the county floods, then so will the east side.
Flooding affects Tarzan Street in Talisman Estates, an eastern Hernando County neighborhood near Ridge Manor, during Hurricane Irma in 2017. Hurricane Irma caused the Withlacoochee River, which the neighborhood backs up to, to flood the neighborhood. [MEGAN REEVES   |   Times]
Flooding affects Tarzan Street in Talisman Estates, an eastern Hernando County neighborhood near Ridge Manor, during Hurricane Irma in 2017. Hurricane Irma caused the Withlacoochee River, which the neighborhood backs up to, to flood the neighborhood. [MEGAN REEVES | Times]
Published June 13

Hernando Emergency Management Director Cecilia Patella doesn’t just have to get her county ready to face one worst-case scenario.

She has to get them ready to face two worst-case scenarios.

Her foremost concern, as of eight months ago, is a Hurricane Michael-type storm coming ashore in western Hernando, striking anywhere from Aripeka to Hernando Beach to Pine Island.

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

“When we’re talking about scenarios, obviously that level of damage, for me, would be the worst-case scenario,” she said.

But in Hernando, the effects of such a major storm striking the west side would inevitably be felt on the east side of the county.

That’s because torrential rains and stormwater runoff will feed into the Green Swamp — a 560,000-acre ecosystem that sits in Hernando, Lake, Pasco, Polk and Sumter counties, feeds four rivers and provides much of central Florida’s drinking water.

Hernando Emergency Management Director Cecilia Patella [Times 2017]
Hernando Emergency Management Director Cecilia Patella [Times 2017]

And then, days or weeks later, all that water will start to flow into the Withlacoochee River and threaten to flood neighborhoods and areas in eastern Hernando.

“If we’ve had a rainy season and then we get a significant storm that drops a huge amount of rainfall in the Green Swamp, that wave of water will flow north,” Patella said. “Then we anticipate that within 10 to 14 days, the river will start to rise well above its major flood stage — and then we will see significant flooding along the river.”

HURRICANE MICHAEL: LESSONS LEARNED

911 calls from Hurricane Michael paint horrifying picture of what it’s like to not evacuate

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael.

It happened in 2004, she said, when Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne all impacted Florida.

So how does a county get ready for two natural disasters days apart?

Hernando’s emergency management plan is scalable, Patella said. That means officials can quickly ramp up their response, ordering more evacuations, opening more shelters and bringing in more supplies and help.

It helps that flooding is a slow-motion disaster. That’s how it happened in 2004.

“We had to literally wait until the hurricane winds were over, but we knew we had the luxury of time,” she said.

“Ten days of lead time is a long time to move assets into the area. The river is slowly rising so it gives residents some lead time.”

River residents also know the dangers they face from a major storm or rain event, and they wouldn’t live along the Withlacoochee unless they were prepared to take care of themselves until help arrived.

“They’re savvy,” Patella said. “They know the river. They’re very aware of their environment. I seldom hear from anyone in that area in a panic over the rising river.”


2019 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter


What Michael taught the Panhandle and Tampa Bay

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael.

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind

Advertisement