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News stories highlighting what happens in the days, weeks and months following hurricanes in Central Florida.

CONVERSATIONS: Osceola braces for more flooding in coming days

Hurricane Ian caused catastrophic flooding in the Good Samaritan retirement community in Kissimmee. Photo by Amy Green
Hurricane Ian caused catastrophic flooding in the Good Samaritan retirement community in Kissimmee. Photo by Amy Green

A number of people in Osceola County are now trying to figure out what’s next in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian and the flooding it has caused. There are expectations there that it’s only going to get worse before getting better.

WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green was in Osceola County over the weekend and joins us now.

Good Morning, Amy!

Hi, Talia!

BLAKE: Amy, you visited the Kissimmee Civic Center yesterday. It’s been turned into housing for people affected by the flooding. What was it like there?

GREEN: It was a difficult situation there. A few people were out front, and some of them were on their cell phones trying to contact FEMA or loved ones. The mood was one of shock. 

BLAKE: Amy, what did people there say?

There were a few people there from the Good Samaritan village, which is a large retirement community in Kissimmee. One resident who was rescued was Judy Saunders. She lives in an apartment there with her 15-year-old Yorkie named Nina.

Saunders says she woke up during the night in the middle of the hurricane, and there was water inside her apartment. She tried to get out but fell and had trouble getting up, and the dog went underwater, too, but first responders were able to rescue both.

SAUNDERS: “I have nowhere to go. I have no money, and it’s going to be tough trying to find a place where I’ll be able to go.”

GREEN: Understandably, Saunders was very shaken up.

BLAKE: Amy, were you able to speak with anyone else?

GREEN: Yeah, I also talked with Quirna Martinez, a single mom who lived with her three kids in a different apartment complex from Saunders’. 

She was riding out Hurricane Ian in her first-floor apartment when water started coming in. She says she began packing bags to evacuate the family when all of a sudden …    

MARTINEZ: “The side of the wall in my living room, it all just burst in and the water just started rushing in. It looked like a movie, a movie. So I got in panic mode. I put life jackets on my kids.”

GREEN: Martinez says she and her family swam out of there as the water reached five feet, and then they were stranded outside in the middle of a hurricane with other residents of the apartment complex until they could be rescued a few hours later.

At this point the situation for people like Martinez and Saunders is very chaotic. They are being moved from shelter to shelter.  They were at a school but had to move so the school could get ready to reopen this week for students and classes.

A lot of these people have lost everything. And when I asked them about next steps, a lot of them said they had no idea what that would be.

BLAKE: Now there’s been talk about the fact that the flooding is only going to get worse in Osceola County before the water begins to recede. Why is this?

GREEN: That’s because the water management infrastructure in that area is designed for water to flow south.

Officials say not only did Osceola County get some 15 inches of rain with Hurricane Ian. Water also is flowing from Orange and Seminole counties. They say East Lake Toho and Lake Toho could rise another two feet before cresting in the next few days.

BLAKE: Amy, I’m sorry, did you say another two feet?

GREEN: Unfortunately, that is what is expected. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is on the scene to help with pumping. And the South Florida Water Management District says its water managers are working to move water through the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes by deploying temporary pumps and opening structures so that water can drain as quickly as possible. But for a lot of residents it’s just not soon enough. Flooding isn’t expected to peak in Osceola County until sometime between Oct. 7 and Oct. 12.  

BLAKE: Amy, thanks for joining us this morning and for continuing to follow this story. 

GREEN: Thank you, Talia. 

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.
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