The water rose over one step and then another.
Gabriela Class watched with her mother and 10-year-old son, who she lives with in a trailer in the Twin City Manufactured Home Community off Gandy Boulevard, as Tropical Storm Eta rolled over Tampa Bay. By 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, storm surge had forced water over the front steps of their home, and it lapped just below the door.
Class, 28, thought about why she’d moved to Florida from Pennsylvania last December. She was tired of the snow. But it occurred to her, as an unusual November tropical storm bore down on Tampa Bay, that you can’t shovel water.
“I just wanted to get anywhere safe,” she said.
Eta brought storm surge that ravaged coast lines, flooded roads and gushed into homes and garages, and downpours that leaked through ceilings and saturated backyards. Tampa Bay pooled over Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard. Across the street from Class, a woman watched from her mattress as water rose as high as her bed. Residents of Oldsmar and St. Petersburg’s Shore Acres neighborhood watched nervously as water creeped up into their yards.
“The storm wasn’t that bad. It was just the water,” said Oldsmar resident Leland Holland. “It just kept coming.”
Like many Tampa Bay area residents, the force of Eta caught him off guard. The flooding stopped four inches shy of entering his home.
His neighbor wasn’t as lucky. Troy Schlitz has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, but was out of the state when Eta hit. When Holland checked on the house Thursday morning, five inches of water covered the living room floor of the split-level home.
It was a similar scene in Shore Acres on Thursday. Jeeps and pick-up trucks inched through calf-deep water in the roads, and water lines stained garage doors.
By the morning, flooding had receded from Dennis McLaughlin’s front yard, adorned with a “SLOW NO WAKE ZONE" sign. But overnight, it was so deep he took a paddle board down his street.
“If it ever floods, that’s the fun part,” he said.
Several streets away, Steve and Bridget Halle assessed the damage in their home and garage. The water started gushing in from the back patio about 10:30 p.m. They rushed to pick up their belongings from the floor. Their sons tossed schoolwork on top of their loft beds. An attempt to sop up the water with towels was futile as five inches of water in total filled their home.
“Day by day, we’ll clean it up,” said Bridget Halle, who was grateful Thursday they’d chosen wood-look tile, instead of actual wood, to outfit their home.
Flooding got so bad in some areas that police and firefighters evacuated people on boats and in Humvees. On the beaches, Pinellas deputies rescued 33 from the harrowing conditions. Tampa police bailed out about a dozen drivers who attempted to navigate Bayshore.
And in Class' neighborhood, St. Petersburg firefighters responded to a collapsed building only to discover chest-deep water in the mobile home park, sparking rescues of 23 people, said Lt. Steven Lawrence.
Class, her son Jayden, and her mother, Sylvia Monserrate, 54, were among them. Soon after the water had risen over their steps, they heard a knock on the door. They opened it to find a fire rescue worker in an aluminum boat, asking if they wanted to go to a shelter.
“I said, ‘Let’s get to safety,'” Class said.
They packed up clothes, food and drinks. Jayden, a fourth-grader at Sawgrass Lake Elementary, grabbed the book he was reading for school: Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls. Then they hopped in, snapping photos and video as the firefighter navigated to the front of the park, where Monserrate had parked her Hummer. It was the family’s first time in a boat.
They decided to stay the night a friend’s house instead of a crowded shelter. Class awoke early Thursday, ready to clean up the water damage.
But when they returned, the inside was dry. The water stayed just below their front door, saving the home. Class credits her father, who had recently raised the mobile home three and a half feet.
“Thank God,” she said.
Staff writers Caitlin Johnston, Douglas R. Clifford, Josh Fiallo and Dennis Joyce contributed to this report.
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2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
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