Parts of Pasco County were still plagued with heavy flooding days after Hurricane Hermine ripped through the state, sparking evacuations and a visit from the governor over the weekend.
Areas of the county sustained between 14 and 20 inches of rain since last week, county officials said. The Anclote River crested at about 25 feet, leaving houses in the area pummeled with high rushing water. Runoff is also hitting the county from areas north of Pasco that were closer to Hermine's direct path, worsening the soggy conditions.
Gov. Rick Scott said Sunday the county suffered the worst flooding in Florida.
"We received more rainfall than any other place in the state," said emergency services director Kevin Guthrie. "That's what, if you want to say, did us in."
Almost 2,500 homes were within evacuation areas with about 750 of them under a mandatory order. Guthrie said Sunday that many people had not left their homes despite the dangerous conditions. The county is still responding to the storm's impacts and will move into the recovery stage early this week.
Residents, too, were still assessing the damage. At Thousand Oaks, a subdivision off Little Road in Trinity, families in knee-high rain boots gathered on sidewalks and in yards to greet Scott, who stopped by three hard-hit areas during his visit. Water pooled at an intersection off the entrance road and only got worse in a cul-de-sac on the north end of the neighborhood.
Patrick Foggia, 50, brought Scott into his garage, where he had pasted a board covered in roofing tar to the base of the door leading into his house. The flooding didn't make it into the garage this time, but past storms, including Tropical Storm Debby in 2012, prepared him for the worst. His wife booked a room for two nights at a hotel nearby just in case.
"It's becoming a yearly thing," he said. "Everyone has it down to a science."
Down the street, Jeff Tavernaro had just moved into his house a month ago, not realizing it already had a reputation in the neighborhood as being the "flood house."
"Everyone comes here to see when they need to start preparing," said Tavernaro, a 42-year-old U.S. Army veteran who moved to Florida with his wife and two sons after he retired.
His family was able to stay in the house during the storm, but water made it into the garage about an inch from the back wall, he said. On Sunday, it still lapped at the back tires of his Jeep, sitting high in the driveway.
During Scott's tour, several residents voiced frustration that the flooding has become a regular occurrence in the neighborhood.
"Do you want to schedule your visit for next year, too?" said Robert Prescott, 43, while holding up a flood insurance claims handbook.
Scott said he understood the frustration of flood victims and pledged to find solutions to the chronic problem, which some in the neighborhood blamed on misallocation of resources by several state agencies.
During a news conference, the governor urged residents to take evacuations seriously.
"We can rebuild things, but we can't rebuild a life that we lose," he said.
The mandatory evacuation zone included homes along Elfers Parkway near the Anclote River, Worthington Court Apartments along State Road 54 and Blue Heron Mobile Home Park on Massachusetts Avenue, all in New Port Richey. The order also affected Suncoast Gateway Mobile Home Park off Ridge Road in Port Richey. Utilities had been shut off in those areas because of rising water.
Evacuations were recommended for the Bass Lake, Lake Worrell and Magnolia Valley areas in New Port Richey.
Officials struggled getting people to leave, Guthrie said. About 40 homes along the Anclote River were still inhabited despite water rushing by at 20 to 25 mph. At Suncoast Gateway, only 15 of about 200 residents were evacuated, he said. Emergency responders rescued about 30 people around the county Saturday, and 15 residents stayed at the Mike Fasano Regional Shelter, according to the county.
"It's been a long, stressful time," said Tracy Hajialilu, 55, who was at the shelter Sunday afternoon with her 12-year-old daughter, Haley.
They waited as long as they could before evacuating their Hudson home Saturday evening. The water had risen to between 1 and 2 feet, she said.
"Everything was floating," Hajialilu said. "The whole house is in total disarray."
With no place to go, they spent Saturday night sleeping in their Hyundai Tuscon SUV before arriving at the shelter Sunday afternoon with their two miniature dachshunds, Binka and Porkchop.
Nearby, the youngest Rivera children, ages 4, 8 and 11, were coloring and playing with puzzles while the eldest, 12, slept. Their parents, David and Jasmine Rivera, said when the family went to sleep Friday night in their home on Elfers Parkway along the Anclote, the river was far below their property.
"The river was nowhere near us," David Rivera said. "Then in the morning, it's like, 'Who left the water on?' "
The governor stopped by two other spots: Elfers Parkway & Seven Springs RV Resort. Here's a pic of the latter. pic.twitter.com/2clUoyfcOW
The water had risen so high that it was already too late to evacuate, especially with four kids. They were finally rescued by rowboat Saturday afternoon by a woman who went to save her own parents who also live down Elfers Parkway.
At the shelter Sunday, the Riveras said they didn't know what was left of their home, which was stilted about 3.5 feet above the ground. After they evacuated, the river continued to rise. It'll be a couple of days before the water recedes enough to let them back into the neighborhood and assess the damage.
The kids, though, weren't fazed by the change in scenery.
"We told them in emergencies like this, you can't get stuck," Jasmine Rivera said. "You've got to stay strong."
Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @kathrynvarn. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or email@example.com. Follow @josh_solomon15.