It started with about an inch of water at around 4 p.m., but it quickly got worse.
Victoria Vidal, who moved to Redington Beach with her family in July, had heard the area didn’t normally get heavy floods. Neighbors told her to expect maybe a few inches from a bad storm.
But that’s not what she experienced during Tropical Storm Eta.
Vidal and her husband Fernando put out sandbags and used a shop vac to stop the water from coming into their home. But by 6 p.m. Wednesday last week as Tropical Storm Eta rolled through Tampa Bay, an inch of water inside the house became three, and their street was already too flooded to drive safely through.
By 9:30 p.m., Vidal huddled with her husband, 8-year-old, 4-year-old and 1-year-old children atop her son’s twin mattress in the last room in the house to take on water. Outside, the flooding reached the windowsill.
“I knew we still had several hours of the storm ahead,” said Vidal, 32. “I didn’t want it to be a worst-case scenario.”
From Texas, her father called for emergency help for them. The Vidals would be part of at least 33 people across Pinellas County rescued from Eta’s storm surge, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
To get out, Vidal strapped her daughter Eva to her front and her son Cristian to her back. His feet dangled into the floodwater while Vidal trudged through waist-high currents.
Gabriel, her older son, had to walk through on his own holding the family’s birds Hedwig and Tico over his head. Fernando carried the family’s chihuahua, Lola, and the medical bag for Cristian, who has spina bifida, which held catheters and seizure medication.
“What made the situation a lot scarier is that (Cristian) needs leg braces, and he needs a walker to be able to get around,” Vidal said. “Obviously those are things that really can’t make their way through that kind of water.”
The family was able to make it safely to fire rescue workers down the street and sheriff’s deputies helped them get to Alden Suites Beach Resort, the only hotel Vidal called that would take in their whole crew — barefoot, pets and all. She worried about going to a shelter because of Cristian’s medical vulnerability.
“We just felt a mix of emotions,” she said. “I mean really grateful for everybody that helped us out, but kind of defeated to tell you the truth. It’s overwhelming, the exhaustion and the gratitude.”
Vidal said the outreach from police and rescue workers, to the kindness of hotel staff, to family and friends who have helped them get back on their feet, it all made her realize that Tampa Bay is the place where she wants to raise her children.
Vidal said her family was impacted by Hurricane Harvey when they were still in Houston, and the difference in community outreach after the storm couldn’t be greater.
“If anything I think it solidified my love of this town and the people in it,” she said. “Just experiencing the kindness and just the outpouring of support from people around us has been just amazing.”
How you can help: Donate to the Vidal Family recovery donation page
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2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
PREPARE FOR COVID-19 AND THE STORM: The CDC's tips for this pandemic-hurricane season
PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a 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