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Days after deluge, Lutz residents still frustrated by flooding

Knee-deep water still is the norm in the Lutz neighborhood of Faircloth Estates, days after most of the rest of the Tampa Bay area has dried out.
Knee-deep water still is the norm in the Lutz neighborhood of Faircloth Estates, days after most of the rest of the Tampa Bay area has dried out.
Published Aug. 8, 2015

LUTZ — For five days now — since floodwaters surged up the 70-foot driveway, uprooting his mailbox and deluging the home from all sides — Jim Slagle's place has sat empty.

Four inches of dark, gray water pooled on his garage floor. Sickly brown water overflowed from the pool onto the lanai. Inside the house, hardwood floors warped and buckled.

The rest of Tampa Bay may have dried out, but Faircloth Estates hasn't. Knee-high water remains the norm in the tiny, three-street loop surrounded by lakes.

A stench drifts through the air. Fire hydrants lounge in a swampy hot tub, submerged to the nozzle. There's a new lake where roads used to sit, bringing unwelcome visitors: algae, mosquitoes, snakes, the works.

Worst part is, Slagle knew this would happen. Which is why he spent three weeks haranguing county commissioners while record rains swelled nearby lakes.

"Welcome to my home," he said Thursday from his flooded stoop on Dover Cliffe Drive.

"Or, rather, what's left of it."

Streets flooded, cars stalled and residents evacuated earlier this week when Mother Nature pounded the bay area with rain for 20 out of 21 days.

In Hillsborough County, those floodwaters have mostly receded.

Not here.

Residents in this Lake Magdalene neighborhood say the continuous rains saturated the surrounding lakes and the ground, leaving their community vulnerable to the floodwaters that rushed in Monday.

"The water was up to door handles on cars," said Carrie Burchett, 40, who lives with her husband on Nottinghill Drive.

The water on her street has dropped 2 ½ feet in the past few days, down to nearly a foot high. Still, residents cannot leave Nottinghill without SUVs. Even then, they drive sparingly through brown waves, due to septic tanks leaking into the standing water.

On Thursday, Burchett watched while a car pummeled through the water, pushing small, fetid waves over her wilted lawn.

"Just imagine that sitting around since Monday," she said. "All of this is toxic now."

How is Faircloth Estates still flooded?

"The way our drainage system works is, it pumps out of one lake and into another," said Victor Crist, the neighborhood's county commissioner. "This rainstorm filled them all up, and we had little capacity."

The county has attempted to solve the problem since late Wednesday, Crist said, by pumping standing water into nearby lakes.

But Faircloth Estates is surrounded by bodies of water, like Long Lake to the east, just across Florida Avenue. And those lakes are all saturated.

"We can't pump too fast because we have to allow the water to drain off to where we're pumping it to," Crist said.

The solution, Crist said, is time.

Slagle, though, was skeptical. This has happened before. In August 2012, he said, another flood swept through Faircloth Estates, leaving roads impassable. Slagle blamed the Florida Department of Transportation for failing to install proper drainage.

"(The water) stood for 10 days before the county came out," Slagle said.

An FDOT spokesman said Friday that the agency had no official complaint about that 2012 episode. But the state will look into it.

Crist says time is the solution. But on Dover Cliffe Drive, residents said their problems are getting worse over time.

Gnats have teemed around the shower drain in Missy Saffold's bathroom since Monday when the water backed up. The social worker was worried about her two nephews, ages 6 and 8, who live with her. Both suffer from immune deficiencies.

Two doors down, Slagle, his wife and their adult son return every day to stuff their belongings into cardboard boxes. Until the neighborhood drains and the damage estimates arrive, they're crashing with family 45 minutes north in Brooksville.

"It smells like dead worms all over the place," said Cindy Heinlein, 67, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than two decades.

Since the flooding, she has paid $100 a day to rent a pickup truck. Her husband suffers from a medical condition that left him bedridden. But standing water doesn't change the fact that somebody has to pick up his medication.

Staring into the nasty green water on Thursday, she summed up everyone's frustration in two words:

"This. Sucks."

Contact Zack Peterson at zpeterson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3368. Follow @zackpeterson918.