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Downpour floods roads for commuters

Lightning damages a house and the rain slows traffic, but the storm does little to ease the drought.

By JAMIE MALERNEE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 13, 2001


As Larry Herring picked up his newspaper Wednesday morning, he heard a loud boom.

Minutes later, his neighbor, Edna Petillo, rushed over, fear etched across her face. A bolt of lightning had struck her house on Sugarbush Drive in Timber Pines, leaving a hole in the garage and tearing off a chunk of the house's concrete foundation.

"It was a spectacular thing," Herring recalled later in the day. "It blew away a sprinkler control on her (garage) wall. There was plastic debris everywhere. She was terribly upset."

But not hurt. Nor was anyone else during a downpour of rain that closed roads and caused minor flooding Wednesday. More than 41/2 inches of rain were measured near the Hernando County Airport, according to officials with the National Weather Service. That's as much rain in one day as the county usually sees in two weeks this time of year.

"It's the highest (single-day total) so far this month," said meteorologist Eric Oglesby.

As a result of the heavy rains, morning commuters drove through submerged roads on the way to work. The Spring Hill intersections of Deltona Boulevard and Regatta Street, and Forest Oaks Boulevard and Andy Pella Drive had to be closed briefly. So did Stanford Avenue, north of County Line Road and east of Mariner Boulevard.

Roads also flooded in the Clover Leaf Farms in Brooksville, said Emory Pierce, the city's public works director, as did several lots on Hammock Road, on the western edge of the city.

"Other than that, we just had the odd plugged culvert or grate here and there," Pierce said.

As significant as the areas that did flood was one that did not: School Street, just south of the city limits. Near the former site of the city's largest sewage treatment plant, raw sewage regularly spilled into the neighborhood from pipes beneath the street.

Since the plant closed two years ago and improvements to the road and sewer lines beneath it were completed last year, the area has experienced no flooding problems, Pierce said.

"That's working very well," he said.

Denise Foote wasn't so lucky.

Foote has lived on Mitchell Road, just south of Brooksville, for 10 years and has long had a flooding problem, she said. On Wednesday, she watched with dread as water crept closer and closer to her door.

"We look like we're a houseboat," she complained.

"We didn't want waterfront property," she added with a laugh.

But the rains stopped before her submerged lawn turned into a submerged house.

"Thank goodness it stopped, but come this summer, I know we're going to go underwater," she said. "The drainage out here is 50, 60 years old. When the water comes down so fast, the ditches can't handle it. They need bigger pipes."

But damage from the storm was minimal; and the rain was not enough to put a dent in the area's three-year drought, water experts said.

Including Wednesday's downpour, Hernando has seen about 51/2 inches of rain this month. The historic average for the month of July is just more than 8 inches. In June, the area received about 8 inches. That's not much more than the historic norm of 7.24 inches.

"Any rain is helpful when we have a very large hydrological deficit like we do," said Michael Molligan, spokesman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. "But we have three years of drought to make up for."

-- Staff writer Dan DeWitt contributed to this report. Staff writer Jamie Malernee covers law enforcement and the courts in Hernando County. She can be reached at 754-6114.

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