When Tropical Storm Debby brought between 15 and 20 inches of rain to parts of Hernando County last June, dozens of sinkholes were just some of the weather-related damages reported throughout the area.
Three of those sinkholes were located on Troy and Lily Fielder's single-acre property along U.S. 41 near Powell Road, and the cavernous holes were visible to motorists driving up and down Broad Street.
This week, a Brooksville-based company began repairing the Fielder's property, filling in the sinkholes, removing an estimated 200-year-old oak tree and topping off the land with new sod. L.R.E. Ground Services has given its services voluntarily.
Richard Gray, son of the late Lily Fielder, who passed away not long after the storm, said L.R.E. has gone "above and beyond" anything he expected.
"My mother worked her entire life for this," Gray said, standing on the property Friday.
Only a few family photos were salvaged from the home, which filled up with so much water that Mr. Fielder woke up floating on his mattress.
Gray said photos of his grandparents and great-grandparents were kept in a bottom drawer, and these photos and the rest of the Fielder's possession were destroyed by either the water or the mold that followed.
Vandals tried to break in, Gray said, and he ended up putting out a sign saying the home was condemned and unsafe to enter under any circumstances.
When the rains came, Gray said he thought his parents had flood and sinkhole insurance. Gray later found out their policies had expired.
Residents would stop and offer cash out of their pocket, Gray said. With Troy Fielder moved and settled in Tennessee to be near his daughter, Gray needed advice on what to do with the damaged property and ravaged house. L.R.E. had called and asked if they could help not long after Debby, Gray said, and when he was ready, he called them back.
L.R.E. General Manager Frank Vitale said he and his employees had witnessed the damage driving up and down Broad Street.
"This is a tight-knit community," Vitale said. "We saw the destruction but didn't see the magnitude until the water stopped and finally drained … we heard Mr. Gray's mom's story and followed it closely, and wanted to take the opportunity to meet Mr. Gray as soon as we could be here to help."
"He's been very appreciative," Vitale added.
On-site Friday, workers were filling a 15-18 foot deep sinkhole. A shallower sinkhole was filled earlier in the week, and Vitale said the project will wrap up by the end of next week.
The latest challenge is clearing the old oak tree Gray climbed as a child off the property, Vitale said.
When all the land is filled, Gray said L.R.E. has offered to plant an oak tree in his mother's memory.
"I've never asked for anything before in my whole entire life," Gray said. "We were praying for a miracle and the Lord sent us L.R.E."