Roads closed, homes flooded as storm surge overwhelms along the Alafia River
HomeHome > Blog > Roads closed, homes flooded as storm surge overwhelms along the Alafia River

Roads closed, homes flooded as storm surge overwhelms along the Alafia River

Aug 08, 2023

RIVERVIEW — It was still dark when the waters breached Pam Marshall’s Riverview home at 5:30 a.m.

She and husband Jeff Marshall grabbed what valuables and important papers they could and made sure their two dogs and cat were safe.

Within 30 minutes, their living room was 6 inches underwater.

“Once it started coming in, it was coming in fast,” said Pam Marshall. “I was in a panic.”

By 10 a.m., the water had receded to the porch, revealing the damage left behind. Sodden furniture and soaked dog mattresses lay on floorboards that had warped and detached from the underlay.

The combination of Idalia-fueled storm surge and a high tide raised the Alafia River to a 6.5-foot flood stage in the Riverview area early Wednesday, the highest level this century, according to National Weather Service records.

Tactical search and rescue teams were dispatched to flooded parts of the county, said Earl Brown, deputy operations section chief for the county’s Emergency Management office. There was also flooding in low-lying areas of Gibsonton and areas west of U.S. Highway 41, Brown said. Boats on lifts 6 feet off the ground were unmoored in parts of Apollo Beach.

“Our hearts go out to those who have been affected,” he said.

Parts of the Alafia River near Lithia regularly flood, especially when heavy rains send additional water from the Alafia headwaters in Polk County. Many homes in that area are built on stilts, some as high as 20 feet, and streets are equipped with sirens to warn residents.

But the area hit by Idalia was closer to Tampa Bay, one that floods only rarely.

The Marshalls have lived in their 1970s-style ranch house on Park Drive since 2010. It has never flooded before, Pam Marshall said. It backs onto a tiny spur of the Alafia.

Fearing that floodwaters might return with an afternoon tide, family members arrived with a trailer to try to salvage furniture as granddaughter Callista, 2, ran around the home.

A Hillsborough County code enforcement officer already visited their home and told them to begin the process of making a claim to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The home is in an evacuation zone, but Pam Marshall said it didn’t make sense to evacuate since the winds were not particularly dangerous.

“I’ve gone through Irma and Ian and other storms,” she said.

A few doors down on Park Drive, Victoria Crib and Brandon Lee watched the floodwaters anxiously.

Their home was dry so far, but the couple also feared a king tide on Wednesday afternoon would bring more menace. But the drop in winds as Idalia moved farther north meant less water was pushing into the river from Hillsborough Bay.

Jannette Diaz couldn’t sleep Tuesday night as she heard bands of rain pass over her home on Magnolia Street. At 2 a.m., she turned on her porch lights to discover the river was closing in on her front door.

Her defense line of 10 sandbags held firm. She also lifted furniture off the ground and used breeze blocks to raise her sofa off the floor.

Diaz, 55, said she ignored the evacuation order because the winds were not dangerously high and she wanted to be there to try to protect her home.

“I’m a Floridian; I’ve been here all my life,” she said.

Floodwaters forced Sarah Strickland and her husband to evacuate their home on Casa Loma Drive at 4 a.m.

About 18 inches of floodwater penetrated the home, where she has lived for the past three years. The couple have flood insurance.

“It needs a lot of work,” she said of her home’s interior. “But nobody’s hurt; nobody’s injured.”

• • •

What to know about forecast tracks as Idalia looms over Florida

Idalia could rapidly intensify. How and why?

Hurricane season 2023: Here’s what to know about forecast tracks.

Storm surge is deadly. We built a computer model to show how.

How to protect your pets — and yourself — during a hurricane.

Checklists for building all kinds of storm kits

Protect your data and documents using your phone

Protect your home and business before the storm

7 lessons for the 2023 hurricane season from Hurricane Ian.