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Morning dawns with sighs of relief for many in north Hillsborough

Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies clear a fallen tree from the corner of Sunset Lane and Livingston Avenue in Lutz. [PAUL GUZZO   |   Times]
Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies clear a fallen tree from the corner of Sunset Lane and Livingston Avenue in Lutz. [PAUL GUZZO | Times]
Published Sep. 11, 2017

LUTZ — Theoron Smith woke up Sunday morning with a feeling of dread, uncertain what his Lutz neighborhood would look like the next day after Hurricane Irma barreled through the Tampa Bay area.

But on Monday morning, as he walked his neighborhood to assess the damage, he was filled with a sense of relief.

"We were spared," said Smith, who has lived in Lutz for 24 years.

Sure, there was some damage. Branches littered the streets of Lutz, trees were cut in half by the wind, power lines dangled, neighbors rolled out their generators, and a parking lot for Tims Memorial Presbyterian Church looked more like a lake.

"I've never seen that much water there," Smith said. "But this could have been worse."

A few miles away in New Tampa that sentiment was shared.

"We were real lucky," New Tampa resident Trish Cardoso said. "Nothing terrible happened to my neighborhood."

Cardoso took in nine friends who were evacuating flood zones. Among those was Karen Sbar who lives in the South Tampa community of Sunset Park.

As she walked New Tampa with her friend Cardoso, she expressed concern about what condition her home would be in.

Jim Wujek – president of the University Square Civic Association that includes his community of Copeland Park also feels spared.

The pond in Copeland Park has been flooding for two to three weeks and leaking water into the walking trails. The hurricane added to the rising waters and the intersection of 19th Street and 111th Avenue is slightly underwater.

Still, Wujek estimates that if the hurricane dropped another six to eight inches of water on New Tampa the homes around the lake would have been flooded. "We feel so lucky," Wujek said.

For Lutz' Javier Jackson, the minimal damage his community incurred is a reason he moved his family there from Miami five years ago.

He saw what a hurricane can do so chose to relocate to where people evacuate to rather than from.

"I was scared when the wind started howling last night and trees started bending," he said. "But I also felt safe knowing the storm surges couldn't touch us."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampatrib.com, Follow@PGuzzoTimes