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Friday, Jun 23, 2017
Politics

Is flood damage bad enough for federal help? FEMA’s assessing that

TAMPA — Federal Emergency Management Agency officials toured recently flooded areas of Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties on Thursday as city and county officials added up the cost of the recent 11-day deluge and subsequent flooding.

In Tampa, flood damages are estimated at about $3 million, an initial assessment report shows. Other local government agencies, including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, are still compiling damage reports on uninsured private homes and businesses, and roads, bridges, drainage systems and other infrastructure that might be eligible for federal reimbursement.

Gov. Rick Scott last week declared a state of emergency for Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Taylor and Dixie counties. Damage costs would have to total about $26 million statewide to reach the threshold for federal disaster assistance.

If that happens, individual counties may then qualify for federal aid, provided they meet public-assistance thresholds based on population.

“My hope is that the state and federal government see that Pasco has had enough damage” to warrant federal assistance, Pasco Emergency Management Director Annette Doying said during a Thursday morning news conference.

In Tampa, where FEMA officials are scheduled to tour water-damaged homes Friday, city officials have concluded their damage assessment, which will be combined with reports from Hillsborough County, Temple Terrace and Plant City before being submitted to the state Division of Emergency management, a first step toward seeking FEMA assistance.

Among the casualties listed: city trucks and police cruisers caught in flood waters, 36 business and almost 100 units of public housing with water damage.

But the biggest hit to Tampa is an estimated $936,000 to repair potholes and road cave-ins caused by saturated soil and an overstressed sewer system.

As of Monday, city maintenance crews had recorded 117 road cave-ins likely caused by weak points in sewer pipes. The city has hired two private utility contractors and shifted staff to create more repair crews.

“We will be at this for months,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn said of repair work.

Torrential rain and flooding also have left Tampa roads peppered with potholes. Since Aug 2, the city has tripled the number of maintenance crews working on Tampa streets and repaired 472 potholes.

“This exacerbated this tenfold – water is insidious,” Buckhorn said.

Other expensive work is $550,000 for repairs and emergency measures following the flooding of the entrance to Homes at Regency Coves on Gandy Boulevard.

The city is shoring up the bank of a ditch and installing a concrete box culvert. It also had to provide security at an alternative entrance the community was forced to open.

“We want to make sure people don’t come in and start ransacking trailers,” said Brad Baird, Tampa public works and utility services administrator.

FEMA officials began their tour around 8 a.m. Thursday and visited the waterlogged Bass Lake community around noon.

The Bass Lake house where Maggie Allesi and her husband Joe live is completely surrounded by floodwater. Maggie Allesi wore a mask over her face to filter air she believed to be compromised by mold inside her house and in the stormwater.

“I still have a foot of water downstairs, but it’s receding,” Allesi said. “I’ve got a water moccasin in the downstairs lanai, and I can’t get him out. There are three or four more (water moccasins) out back; I can see them.”

Allesi said her husband is on dialysis treatment and they have no running water. They have evacuated to a trailer park but periodically check their property.

“We’re gonna have a block party after everything clears out,” she said.

Salvation Army workers nearby distributed food to area residents; a portable shower unit was also available in the neighborhood.

Officials still fear that more rain will exacerbate the problem.

One to two inches of rain was expected in west Pasco through Thursday evening with a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms in the area Friday, said Tom Dougherty, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Friday’s storms could mean about 1⁄4-inch of more rain, Dougherty said.

By mid-afternoon Thursday, the Anclote had receded to 17.9 feet, the weather service said. The river’s flood stage begins at 20 feet and it is considered in major flood stage at 24 feet.

Heavy rain in Hillsborough led to the closure of Hesperides Street North between Sligh Avenue and Hillsborough Avenue. Coastal areas in West-Central Florida spent most of Thursday under a flood watch, which means that flooding is possible during the next 24 to 36 hours.

Fearing further flooding, Tampa again made sandbags available to residents.

It may be awhile before county and city officials learn whether they will qualify for FEMA assistance as assessments are expected to take a week.

In Pasco, the threshold for damages to qualify is just over $1.65 million, while in Hillsborough it’s just over $4.37 million; in Pinellas, it’s just over $3.25 million, according to the state Division of Emergency Management.

In Pinellas County, FEMA officials toured Sherwood Forest RV Park and Caladesi Mobile Home Park, both of which were evacuated because of flooding. The county is still compiling its damage assessment.

Hillsborough County officials said they hope to be able to apply to FEMA for assistance. Spokeswoman Michelle Van Dyke said the county is “well into the assessment phase.”

FEMA’s assessment team will be in Tampa on Friday visiting flood-damaged private homes. The agency is already providing technical assistance to local governments, and programs that assist residents to rehab homes are being made available through the state Division of Emergency Management, said Chauncia Willis, emergency management coordinator for the City of Tampa.

“They will hit each one of those homes and talk to residents and see what kind of damage they have,” Willis said.

codonnell@tampatrib.com

Twitter: codonnellTBO

gfox@tampatrib.com

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