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During and after Hermine, blog helped Hernando Beach residents connect and cope

HERNANDO BEACH — Several hours before residents of Hernando Beach had expected the arrival of high tide in their waterfront community late last week, there were already signs that the predictions of a minimal storm surge from Hurricane Hermine had been underestimated.

As Diane Greenwell looked outside at the water rising over Flamingo Boulevard into the front yard of her multi-story stilt house, she grew concerned that the storm was going to be far worse than expected. She jumped onto the Next Door Hernando Beach community blog about midnight Thursday to warn neighbors that water was already several feet deep on the road.

About the same time, resident Larry Mayer reported: "Flamingo, Calienta, 5 feet of water near Coast Guard building. Sheriff not letting anyone past the gas station. Sheriffs and fire trucks at several locations along Shoal Line.''

"I called 911 and since there is apparently no plan in place to wake people up, I asked them to reverse call people on Hernando Beach," Sarah Hill wrote on the blog. "They said they would get permission and try. That is absolutely ridiculous.''

Other residents didn't understand the apparent lack of response.

"They have a local state of emergency posted earlier today,'' wrote Margaret Shealy. "The county Emergency Management team should be in place and working all night. It should take 2 seconds to get a okay to do a reverse 911 call and wake everyone up.''

For Greenwell, a recent transplant from Kentucky who had no Florida hurricane experience, the surreal view of water getting deeper around her home in the overnight darkness was startling.

"The house across the street has water midway up the outside walls. I hope they got out earlier,'' she wrote. "I have called 911, notified Bay News 9, the fire department and done all I know to do at this point. We are just waiting for our walls to fall.

"The water is over the back seawall and the front canal so we are totally surrounded now.''

As much as the feeling of isolation gripped residents weathering the storm along the Hernando coast, the connection of community felt through social media and the mobilizing of assistance after the storm brought residents together in a unique way as they shared their storm experiences.

For Gladys Moore, a longtime Hernando Beach resident and president of the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association, a ground-level house meant dealing with 14 inches of water inside. At one point, as water began to recede overnight, she told her neighbors, "A tiny fish just swam by heading down my hall. I had expensive carpet with a moisture barrier and special pad put in my living room, what was I thinking!!!''

Others talked about missing Adirondak chairs, kayaks, yard statues and boat cushions, while an equal number blogged about the jacuzzi floating down their canal, misplaced toolboxes, untethered boats and missing rattan couches.

And while the blog allowed people whose homes sustained major damage to connect with people who had rooms available, it allowed residents to connect with one another in a way that they could not in past disasters, like the one that devastated Hernando Beach in March 1993 when the no-name storm drove residents to their roofs in search of rescue from rising waters.

Hernando Beach resident Erin Daly has organized neighbors to begin helping with something she has called Operation Hernando Gut and Dump, with a Facebook presence bearing the same name. She is gathering teams to continue the work started over the Labor Day weekend to help residents who were flooded to tear out their carpet and wet drywall and haul it outside for disposal.

Likewise, another resident, Sandra Day, learned of residents who were without a place to stay. She has started a GoFundMe page that, as of midweek, already had raised more than $6,000 to help provide assistance.

"Many of the displaced residents are staying in local motels and don't have the resources to do this for long,'' she wrote on the page. "I spoke with one woman this morning who is beyond overwhelmed and traumatized. We are looking to help these folks during their transition until the cavalry arrives! I am being optimistic!''

Moore, who will be dealing with the remnants of the floodwaters in her house for some time, had nothing but praise for her neighbors who pulled together for her sake and for many others in far worse shape.

"Hernando Beach has come together as a community with generosity, help, love, compassion and a great 'can do' spirit. Nobody sat around waiting for the Federal Government to help them, they rolled up their sleeves and got to work helping each other clean up, relocate if necessary, donate items, man cleanup stations and much more,'' she wrote. "Kudos to all of you.

"Hernando Beach Rocks."

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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