MADEIRA BEACH — Dark water lines dirtied bright beach cottages along the Intracoastal Waterway on Thursday, tracing the damage from Hurricane Idalia.
Residents cracked garage doors to air out inside. Some dragged soggy rolls of carpet to the curb. The winding streets smelled of muck. Rain showers soaked them further, as puddles covered the pavement.
A man handed out flyers for pressure washing to residents who stopped to wipe sweat from their faces.
John Keeley, 73, got about six inches of water inside his place by 4th Street E and Boca Ciega Avenue. It bubbled up through the slab.
“Twenty years I’ve been here, and this is the first time that water came into the unit,” he said.
The flood destroyed a washer and dryer in his laundry room, where he guessed the water topped out a few inches higher.
Elsewhere, people were cleaning up their homes for the second time in three years. Tropical Storm Eta had flooded many of these same streets in November 2020, washing out homes along Boca Ciega Avenue. Storm surge can be fickle, and while some people reported Idalia was worse, others said it fell short of Eta.
After authorities let him back on the island late Wednesday, Randy Hanson, 43, said he walked into his rental house and smelled something foul, like sewage. Each step forced more water from the soaked carpet. He spent three hours ripping it up and hauling it outside.
The sandbags and plastic he’d taped to the doors hadn’t helped much. Nor had the towels he left inside, which he said were enough to limit the damage during Eta.
“It’s just disheartening the amount of cleanup you have to do to get your place livable again,” Hanson said. Homeowners, he said, control their own recovery, but renters like him have to rely on their property managers.
As he cleaned up Thursday, dolphins broke through the still water behind his yard. The view is one reason he stays.
Around the bend, Mike Lapinski, 58, mopped the tile floor of a duplex he owns. The metal roof was buckled and mangled from wind. He thinks this will be its last flood.
“I’ve about had enough,” he said. He’s considering tearing it down and building something higher.
Lapinski lives in Detroit but grew up in Pinellas.
“I only come back down when it’s bad stuff happening,” he said. “That’s beginning to happen every year.”
Todd Abrams returned after Idalia to his robin’s egg blue house and found a door on his front lawn. He didn’t know where it came from. The water line was a gash around his carport about 18 inches high, and about the same amount of water ended up inside.
He bought his place, a second home, a few years ago after he saw the view from the back, with the Intracoastal stretching out past his dock. Even if the house was old, he thought, nothing could beat that picture.
“It’s flooded about once every decade” since it was built in the 1960s, Abrams said. “But I’ve been here about four and a half years and it’s flooded twice. And both times were the worst it’s ever flooded.”
On days like Thursday, when he’s scraping muck into a wheelbarrow, he reconsiders living on the water. But the thought only lasts about a week, he said. “The 364 days of paradise outweighs the one bad day.”
Down Gulf Boulevard, past where bulldozers were sweeping up piles of sand that washed over from the beach, the damage extended into Redington Beach.
Just across the city line, Barbie Newton, 59, set to work cleaning her garage. The water had risen about a foot but didn’t get into the house.
When she got back late Wednesday, she opened a door from her kitchen and immediately caught the scent of something dank in the garage, like mildew.
“Literally everything was floating,” she said.
The flood ruined her washer and dryer and lifted storage totes, tipping one open and spilling the contents. A manger from Africa and angels from Norway — collectibles Newton had gathered in her travels as a flight attendant — were ruined.
“I don’t want to focus on material things,” she said. “Because they can be replaced.”
Newton donned a highlighter-pink tank top Thursday with sparkly letters: “On the coast of somewhere beautiful.” She said she’s been in Redington Beach for 28 years but has loved the shore much longer, ever since she visited Corpus Christi, Texas, as a kid. She has a framed picture of herself from that trip, standing happily in the sand.
“Still not going to leave,” Newton said. “Nothing’s going to change.”
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