One year after Hurricane Ian, Orlo Vista homeowners still struggle with the impacts of flooding
In their common struggle, some residents have found a sense of community with a closeness like family.
Janét Buford-Johnson's home in Orlo Vista just west of Orlando is a work in progress.
Some walls are gray cinder blocks or simply wooden studs. The kitchen has the basics -- stove, sink, refrigerator and microwave. Otherwise, it's completely unfinished.
The bathroom has a curtain for a door.
One year after Hurricane Ian flooded her home and many others in Orlo Vista just west of Orlando -- Buford-Johnson and her teenage daughter are still living with the consequences.
The 54-year-old has vivid memories of that pitch dark morning after the power went out. First the toilet wouldn't flush, then the tub started gurgling and water began streaming in through cracks in the doors.
They packed bags and waited on a bed until a firefighter directed them to the front door.
"He's on the other side, kind of pushing it open," Buford-Johnson said, "and she and I are pulling, trying to get it open. Then finally ... BOOOSH, and then all of all the water came rushing in, and we're like, oh my God, oh my God. I was like, calm down. We're gonna make it we're gonna make it."
Mother and daughter climbed on their Honda Accord until a rescue boat came. Almost all their belongings were lost forever.
Buford-Johnson, who said she is on disability and had no property insurance, said FEMA provided $26,000 for repairs and recovery.
In June, she left her son's apartment and moved back in.
Now, one year after the storm, she’s waiting on Orange County's Housing Rehabilitation Program to give her walls again and kitchen cabinets.
The Housing Rehabilitation Program will assist homeowners with its disaster recovery funds who meet the following requirements:
- Experienced hurricane related damages to their primary residence.
- Provide proof they’ve applied with FEMA and homeowner’s insurance.
- Owners must reside in the home, provide proof of fee simple ownership, and meet the household income criteria (80% area median income or less).
- Owners must have owned and resided in the house for at least the past 12 months.
- The property must be in Orange County.
- Mortgage and real estate taxes on the home must be current.
Source: Orange County
Any news of hurricanes -- or other storms -- fills her with anxiety, Buford-Johnson said. "All I think about is how I was on top of my car. In a brief moment, I'm back on top of my car and everything's gone."
Family members were a lifeline. Some urged her to leave Florida, as she recalled. "I’m like, 'I ain’t leaving my house now. I gotta fight for this.'"
County 'bridging the gap'
Her commissioner, Mike Scott, said Orange County is "bridging the gap" between what FEMA provided and the housing needs of those affected by the hurricane "to not only help with the funding, but also provide contractors who are going to do the work, do it well and not overcharge."
But he said government tends to move slowly and he knows some homeowners have been waiting.
In Orlo Vista, an estimated 148 homes were damaged. So far six homeowners are in the process of applying for county rehab. One is approved and awaiting bids.
Scott says the county "dropped the ball" by failing to adequately address the area's history of flooding.
But stormwater manager Mike Drozek says the county responded quickly to widespread flooding from Hurricane Irma five years earlier. It’s using millions in federal and local funds to deepen retention ponds by 10 feet and replace drainage pumps.
It's just that the process of getting those funds through FEMA took a long time. Drozek says they were "so close."
"It was like the most disheartening thing. I mean, we were hoping, praying, you know, the thing would be built before the next big one came," Drozek said.
The work could be finished next summer.
Not just friends or neighbors, but 'family'
Buford-Johnson's neighbor Marisel Jacobo came to the U.S. 23 years ago from Cuba. She survived the flood pressed for hours against a front window while floating furniture bumped against her back. That day she lost everything but her two dogs.
"That's it," Jacobo said, "When I come back five days after, that's (it), I only have the two dogs ... Macarena and Bella. I still have my dogs and my husband."
They live in a shed next to their storm-damaged home and are waiting for help from the county to repair the roof before the inside can be rebuilt.
She and Buford-Johnson have found a sense of community with a closeness like family, Jacobo said. "That's the only good thing with that disaster and everything (that) happened. (We’re) good, good, good family, no friends, family."
It’s a bond forged through hardship.