1. Local Weather

Pasco officials begin process of assessing storm damages

NEW PORT RICHEY — High water and heavy winds from Hurricane Hermine sent 33 people to shelters, washed out a busy neighborhood street in Land O'Lakes, closed numerous roads elsewhere around Pasco County and left nearly 3,800 homes without power by midday Friday.

A possible tornado knocked down trees in southeastern Pasco along Gator Lane in Crystal Springs, authorities said.

Officials reported just one storm-related injury. A west Pasco woman in the area of Massachusetts Avenue was taken to a hospital with a head injury after she slipped and fell in her yard at about 4 a.m. Friday.

The county closed nine of its parks to survey for damage and said it would send 20 two-person assessment teams into neighborhoods over the next several days to compile damage reports on private property.

The Pasco Sheriff's Office said water had washed out a portion of Parkway Boulevard, the main through street in the Lake Padgett Estates East subdivision. Residents were urged to report damage to the county at (727) 847-2411.

"Right now, all of our neighborhoods are vulnerable,'' Kevin Guthrie, Pasco's emergency services director, said during an early afternoon press briefing, with west Pasco residents confronting coastal flooding and eastern Pasco property owners surveying tree damage.

Overnight, a storm surge measuring 4.3 feet swamped coastal areas. The county said it answered 32 requests for help between 1 and 6 a.m. from people trying to evacuate rising water. Even so, the county said it believed its residents had prepared properly after what may have been initial complacency.

"We've been talking about this storm for eight days,'' said Guthrie.

The county had distributed 38,000 sandbags since Monday, Guthrie said, compared to a combined 33,000 sandbags for the two previous storms.

"I think people heeded our warnings to prepare themselves,'' he said.

The county also urged residents to stay away from standing water, whether on foot or in a vehicle.

"It's not a sport to go driving down the street as fast as you can causing wakes,'' said Sheriff Chris Nocco.

Pasco County Commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said she had seen at least three cars upsidedown in ditches.

The county said 20 roads had been closed, including two in the city of New Port Richey. A year ago, 40 inches of rain drenched portions of west Pasco in July and August, leaving 144 streets severely damaged and 156 more in danger of crumbling. At the time, the repair bill was estimated at up to $30 million.

"There were roads that were severely damaged last summer that have been severely damaged again because permanent repairs have not been possible,'' County Administrator Michele Baker said.

"This is an emergency; this is not a sightseeing,'' she said, asking residents not to drive past road barricades.

Nocco also urged residents hiring help for home repairs to check with Division of Professional Regulation to ensure the workers are licensed contractors. He also offered a bit of advice to harried residents.

"This is also a mental health issue. People are stressed right now,'' Nocco said. "For the next couple of days, the holiday weekend, just relax. Hopefully by Tuesday life will get back to normal.''