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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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For Clover Leaf residents, Irma left her mark, and it wasn't pretty

BROOKSVILLE

Most residents of Clover Leaf Forest RV Park in Brooksville evacuated ahead of Hurricane Irma. Those who stayed woke up to a sad scene.

Trees were down everywhere, some atop cars and campers. A foot or more of water covered nearly half of the park, engulfing the neighborhood's streets and, in some places, where the road dips low, kissing the doorways of homes.

Wind had thrown picnic tables and lawn furniture. Cars sat abandoned. By noon Monday, maintenance workers, who had begun before 6 a.m., were unloading a sixth tractor to remove debris. Only a handful of residents had returned to see the damage Irma had done.

One was Steve Oats, 22, a three-year resident of the park. His home sits near the front of the neighborhood, on higher ground, so it was spared from flooding. But a massive oak tree demolished his porch.

Still, he felt fortunate.

"If it was a Category 4 or 5 like we thought it might have been, there would have been nothing left of this place," Oats said. "We got lucky."

Janine Romano of Spring Hill came to the park just before 1 p.m. Monday. Her car stopped right at the edge of the floodwater, where she then dropped a bright blue kayak.

She was there to rescue her sister's pets — four dogs and a cat — trapped inside a home on the far northeast side of the park, where flooding was the worst.

Ervin Miller, who rode out the storm Sunday night inside his fifth-wheel RV, said Irma "sounded like a freight train coming through." He said when he awoke at 7 a.m. Monday, looked outside and saw the water, he immediately reached for his Army green rain boots.

"I wasn't walking out my door without boots on," said Miller, 47.

Across the street from his home was that of Gail Covington, who has lived in the park for 12 years. More than two years ago, she moved into a teal and white 1950s-style mobile home on a new lot that backs up to a large retention pond that most residents call "the creek."

It's known to flood during heavy rainstorms. But the flooding brought by Irma was unprecedented for most residents.

Covington, 62, said she worked as a liaison with the National Weather Service during Hurricane Wilma in the Florida Keys, so radar of Irma swirling toward the Sunshine State was eerily familiar.

"I knew I had to leave," she said.

Covington slept at a local shelter with her cat, Bob, during the storm. When she returned Monday morning, the mobile home was an island. She made makeshift waders out of trash bags and made her way toward the front door.

Water stood above the baseboards throughout her home. In her shed out back, she estimated 18 inches. By Tuesday, water was still in her yard, but it had receded out of the home, leaving the dirt and dead worms it carried with it scattered on her blue-and-white checkered kitchen floors.

Covington, who now works as a bookkeeper at Home Depot, said she will do what she can to salvage the place while reminding herself how much worse it could have been.

"At least it's still here," she said.

Bucky Wolfe, 51, spent Monday across the street from the park at the Kangaroo gas station. He couldn't get down the street to check on his 1980s mobile home because of high water. The best view he could get was from the station's parking lot.

When he finally walked into his home Tuesday, his bare feet made a squish sound on the carpet. He said Irma brought at least 8 inches of standing water inside, damaging just about everything he owns.

Wolfe has owned his place for more than a year, but just moved in last December after a complete remodel. Now, the drywall, laminate, carpet and tile he installed are ruined.

"I wanted to make this my home, make it how I wanted it to be. . . . But it's a total loss," he said as looked around the living room and lit a cigarette. "I underestimated her."

Lisa Shinn, 34, rode out the storm in the park's pool house with her 14-year-old son, Anthony, and her husband, Matt, who is a maintenance worker at the park. All night, they listened to tree limbs fall onto the tin roof, but they were safe inside.

Shinn said as soon as the storm was over, her husband and other workers sprang into action in hopes of getting the park back to normal.

"How do you even prepare for something like this when you're living in a place like this?" Shinn said from the doorway of the pool house Monday afternoon. "All we can do now is pick up and help our neighbors pick up."

   
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