Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Hernando residents watch rising Withlacoochee River with dread

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RIDGE MANOR — Terry Price sat with his shih tzu and a pack of cigarettes on a wooden porch outside his son's home on Tuesday afternoon. It had become an island thanks to the rising waters of the Withlacoochee River behind his Hernando County home.

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"The worst part is, it's still coming," he said of the brown, murky water filled with trash, debris and even a small, tan boat sitting in his water-logged lawn.

And the water will keep coming.

The National Weather Service said the river is expected to rise another two feet by Sunday, capping out at 16.3 feet, which is just .2 feet below what is considered major flood stage.

Price, 63, said he first noticed the rising waters late Monday in the backyard of their property on Tiger Street, in a community called Talisman Estates just south of Ridge Manor, after simultaneous high tide and storm surge fueled by Hurricane Irma.

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By 3 p.m. Tuesday, the water had reached across the street — crawling as high as what one neighbor called "belly-button deep" in some places. Nearly every yard on the street had become an extension of the river.

"It's not looking good around here," said Price, who rode out the storm from the window of his fifth-wheel RV, parked in the yard and now an island onto itself, too, while drinking a glass of wine and comforting his worried shih tzu, Lil Bit. "I guess if it comes to it, I'll just hold my breath and float."

Across the street, Eileen Lempicki, 51, choked back tears as her daughter, Krystal Whitmore, 28, hauled a flatscreen TV and other valuables out of their red-and-white mobile home.

They feared the rising water, already flooding their yard, will soon make its way into their home. They've lived there for about a year with Lempicki's husband and Whitmore's two small children.

They tried to evacuate the area but had no luck finding gas far north as Ocala. The family had to return and ride out the storm at home on Sunday night from inside a brick addition on the side of the mobile home.

Everything went dark about 10 p.m. Later, a massive oak tree came crashing into the yard, narrowly missing their hiding place.

Lempicki said she has medical problems that cause seizures, and the stress of the storm caused her to have two overnight on Sunday. She worried what else the flooding will bring.

"When it got light out, we came out to see what had happened, and it's just a catastrophe," she said. "As the waters rise I just get more emotional ... I feel like I'm going to have to start all over again."

They planned to spend Tuesday night in a Tampa hotel room.

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

 
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