Hernando, Fla., Is Getting Ready for Two Disasters, Not One

Hernando’s emergency management plan is scalable. Officials can quickly ramp up their response, ordering more evacuations, opening more shelters and bringing in more supplies and help.

by Jamal Thalji, Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla. / June 13, 2019
Flooding affects Tarzan Street in Talisman Estates, an eastern Hernando County neighborhood near Ridge Manor, during Hurricane Irma in 2017. Hurricane Irma caused the Withlacoochee River, which the neighborhood backs up to, to flood the neighborhood. TNS

(TNS) — Hernando Emergency Management Director Cecilia Patella doesn’t just have to get her county ready to face one worst-case scenario.

She has to get them ready to face two worst-case scenarios.

Her foremost concern, as of eight months ago, is a Hurricane Michael-type storm coming ashore in western Hernando, striking anywhere from Aripeka to Hernando Beach to Pine Island.

“When we’re talking about scenarios, obviously that level of damage, for me, would be the worst-case scenario,” she said.

But in Hernando, the effects of such a major storm striking the west side would inevitably be felt on the east side of the county.

That’s because torrential rains and stormwater runoff will feed into the Green Swamp — a 560,000-acre ecosystem that sits in Hernando, Lake, Pasco, Polk and Sumter counties, feeds four rivers and provides much of central Florida’s drinking water.

Hernando Emergency Management Director Cecilia Patella [Times 2017]And then, days or weeks later, all that water will start to flow into the Withlacoochee River and threaten to flood neighborhoods and areas in eastern Hernando.

“If we’ve had a rainy season and then we get a significant storm that drops a huge amount of rainfall in the Green Swamp, that wave of water will flow north,” Patella said. “Then we anticipate that within 10 to 14 days, the river will start to rise well above its major flood stage — and then we will see significant flooding along the river.”

It happened in 2004, she said, when Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne all impacted Florida.

So how does a county get ready for two natural disasters days apart?

Hernando’s emergency management plan is scalable, Patella said. That means officials can quickly ramp up their response, ordering more evacuations, opening more shelters and bringing in more supplies and help.

It helps that flooding is a slow-motion disaster. That’s how it happened in 2004.

“We had to literally wait until the hurricane winds were over, but we knew we had the luxury of time,” she said.

“Ten days of lead time is a long time to move assets into the area. The river is slowly rising so it gives residents some lead time.”

River residents also know the dangers they face from a major storm or rain event, and they wouldn’t live along the Withlacoochee unless they were prepared to take care of themselves until help arrived.

“They’re savvy,” Patella said. “They know the river. They’re very aware of their environment. I seldom hear from anyone in that area in a panic over the rising river.”

———

©2019 the Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

Visit the Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.) at www.tampabay.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs