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Tropical Storm Debby continues to impact lives

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Published:   |   Updated: June 26, 2013 at 10:03 AM

One year ago, the water was seemingly everywhere.

In people's lawns. In retention ponds. On roads. It seemingly rained for days on end and it was driving people up the wall.

Tropical Storm Debby flooded people's homes, wrecked lives by displacing families and made life miserable for Hernando County.

Incredibly, Debby's impact is being felt 365 days later, at least for a handful of residents who are still waiting for claims reimbursement to repair their property.

"I think the lingering effects from Debby are not so much the water on the ground but some of the damages done to people's homes," said Cecilia Patella, emergency management director. "Even after a year later, those homeowners have not recovered."

There are still families awaiting word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on whether they will receive grant money to repair their homes.

"They're basically in limbo, awaiting a decision on whether or not they will receive mitigation funding," Patella said.

These people are hesitant to pay for the repairs because, if awarded grants, they would be out that money, she said.

Others who did spend money fixing up property have struggled financially, she said.

There are five families in Hernando County waiting on FEMA action. The total amount of money they are requesting to fix up their homes is $897,432.

In all, Hernando, Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Franklin, Highlands, Pasco, Pinellas, Suwannee and Wakulla counties were declared disaster areas and eligible for state aid from Tropical Storm Debby.

Kathy Rousakis and her husband James have been unable to live in their home since flood waters gushed through her Rochelle Road home in Brooksville, making it unlivable.

"We're still in limbo," said Rousakis, whose request to FEMA is for $180,250.

The couple has rented a trailer, not nearly the size of their own home, which is now covered with mold, she said.

What made Debby especially bad for Hernando County is that another strong rain system had swept through days earlier, and there was already too much water on the ground.

"I think what made the most impact was just the sheer amount of water," Patella said. "It was just water that sat on the ground for days, and days and days."

All the water caused a mosquito explosion, which brought increased risk of contamination and disease.

Although Hernando County avoided the brunt of Tropical Storm Debby, the record rainfall was enough to cause major damage.

Trees fell onto roadways, the Suncoast Parkway was flooded between State Road 50 and U.S. 98 and sinkholes opened up in several places, including 115 just at Trillium alone.

Some of the biggest sinkholes occurred at the airport. Repairing those airport sinkholes ended up taking longer and costing more than originally anticipated. The final cost was about $610,000, according to Airport Manager Don Silvernell.

Airport officials expect to be reimbursed for most of that from FEMA and state emergency management funds.

A local state of emergency was declared for Hernando County. The sheriff's office warned people not to go out onto roads unless necessary.

By the time Debby exited the state into the Atlantic Ocean, it had dumped some 15-20 inches on Hernando County.

The Peck Sink preserve along Wiscon Road cost the county more than $200,000 to repair after heavy rains destroyed the man-made berms near the site, spilling water onto nearby roadways and properties.

The sink held up this month after Tropical Storm Andrea brushed Hernando County.

Unlike Debby, Andrea was fast-moving and left behind about 3-5 inches of rain.

But Patella said it was a wake-up call that Hernando County could be hit any time by a major storm or hurricane.

"Be prepared," Patella said.

mbates@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5290

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