Hurricane Irma Taught Lessons, Caused Change

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla.—Hurricane Irma in 2017 was one of the strongest and costliest storms to hit Florida. Lessons learned as the hurricane guide prepares for the 2022 storm season.

What do you want to know

  • Hurricane Irma was a very strong storm
  • Some residents are still rebuilding after this storm
  • Lessons learned overnight help residents prepare for more storms this year

The storm left hundreds of thousands of people without power and downed trees in central Florida. Even after power was restored and trees cleared, Irma let flooding issues linger and exposed what can happen when mother nature dumps record amounts of rain in a day.

Clarence Laster’s 1977 Rolls Royce was his only car to survive Hurricane Irma. He says building the conventionally built car protected it from flooding. Three of his family’s other cars in the same driveway were totaled. Laster remembers hearing National Guard soldiers knocking on his door and coming to rescue him as floodwaters rushed through his neighborhood.

“I opened the door and the water started rushing in there, and he said close the door, close the door,” Laster said.

Laster was one of about 150 people rescued when Hurricane Irma dumped so much rain that several large retention ponds in the community of Orlo Vista overflowed, sending waist-to-shoulder deep waters into surrounding neighborhoods.

Orlo Vista was one of many parts of central Florida where people had to be rescued due to flooding. Dozens of people were also brought to safety in the Spring Oaks neighborhood of Seminole County, where several homes stretch up to the Little Wekiva River. The owner of one of these houses, Doreen Kosuchowski, did not need to be rescued, but she says the water nearly entered her house. She says that in her 40 years of living there, Irma caused the worst flooding. And since then, the river overflows more frequently and erodes parts of its garden with it.

“I would say five years ago it started happening,” Kosuchowski said.

Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz said the city used federal funds to repair damage Irma caused to drainage systems along the Little Wekiva River, but homes along the river are in a naturally flood-prone area, built before FEMA established the area as a floodplain. .

Owners like Kosuchowski therefore have a choice – stay and face the risk of flooding – or move.

“What else can I do? What else can I do?” asked Kosuchowski.

“I love my house. I love the neighborhood. People are very nice around here. I’m not in a position where I can afford to move, so I have to stay here.

FEMA provides an online tool that allows people to find flood-prone areas on a map.

Back in Orange County, Laster’s home was one of 500 homes flooded during Irma. It had to be emptied. After living in a hotel paid for by FEMA for a year, he returned home and was able to fix things like his air conditioning unit, thanks to his 30 years of experience as an engineer at Disney.

“I took this cover off here and pulled the fan motor up and dried out the fan motor,” Laster said.

But Laster says that thanks to delayed insurance payments and a shortage of contractors, he is still, nearly five years later, waiting for more home repairs.

There is still mold in his bathroom.

“They’re going to come back and do that skylight and the ceiling and all that stuff,” Laster said.

Orange County planners say a project is underway to dig nearby retention ponds deeper and upgrade pump stations, so floods like Irma’s don’t happen again.

“When it flooded, it all looked like a lake here, it all looked like a lake,” Laster said.

But Laster says that with the response after Irma and ongoing improvement projects, he’s not worried if another storm as strong as Irma comes.

Spectrum News 13 reached out to local counties and utility companies to see what work has been done since Irma to repair damage, reinforce infrastructure and fortify power grids to be ready for future storms.

Here’s what we heard:

FPL details its work here.

Duke Energy details its work here.

Seminole County:


  • Oregon Street and Michigan Avenue Local Drainage Improvements – funded by county sales tax fund
  • Special Needs Shelter Generators Project – Funded by Irma Funds HMGP

In progress:

  • Willow Ave. at Alhambra N. of Lake Harriet Drainage Improvements – Funded by Irma HMGP Funds
  • Nebraska Avenue Bridge Improvements – Funded by Irma HMGP Funds
  • Miller Rd./Six Mile Creek Improvements – Funded by Irma HMGP Funds
  • Nolan Road. Canal and Culvert Improvements – Funded by Irma Funds HMGP
  • Hillview Dr. Drainage Improvements – Funded by Irma Funds HMGP
  • Oliver Ave. Road Improvements – Funded by Irma HMGP Funds
  • Restoration of the Little Wekiva River, funded by St. Johns River Water Management District grant, DEP credit, DEP Springs fund, and federal credit

Volusia County:

Road to Rio
This is a major undertaking that actually started before Irma with the purchase and demolition of 21 flood-prone homes on Rio Way in the Ormond Beach area. This was partially funded by a FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance grant. After the houses were purchased, after Irma, the county partnered with the St. Johns River Water Management District to construct a regional stormwater treatment facility to further mitigate flooding. Here is a link to a press release the Water Management District issued at the time:

Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant Program
Since Irma, the county has submitted applications for FEMA flood mitigation grants on behalf of about a dozen homeowners in the Ormond Beach area who live in flood-prone areas. The grants are designed to help pay for the raising and renovation of homes to make them more flood resistant.

Planned projects
We have identified a number of significant flood mitigation projects that are in various stages of planning.

They include the following:

  • Elizabeth Street Retention Pond Project that will divert stormwater runoff from the portion of the Gabordy Canal adjacent to Edgewater Canal Road.
  • Improvements to the North Peninsula’s stormwater systems, including replacing old corrugated sheet drainage pipes with exfiltration trench pipes to reduce road flooding and the quantity (and quality) of stormwater discharged into the Halifax River. This is an ongoing program, with dedicated stormwater department funds each year.
  • Wilbur-by-the-Sea drainage improvements which will include the installation of exfiltration pipes and the interconnection of stormwater retention ponds to increase stormwater carrying capacity and reduce flooding of structures and roads.
  • Pooser Pond (Orange City) stormwater upgrades, which will include the construction of a pumphouse and penstock to alleviate flood conditions that impact roads and adjacent properties during storm events. rain.
  • North Beach Street (Ormond Beach): This project will involve raising a portion of the road and installing storm drains to alleviate flood conditions.
  • Buckingham Drive (Ormond Beach): This project will include replacing the existing reinforced concrete pipe with an exfiltration trench, installing a spillway at the downstream end of the exfiltration and upgrading the outfall of the Halifax River.
  • Daytona Park Estates (DeLand): This project will involve a new storm drain pipe and the replacement of existing aging structures to alleviate flood conditions.
  • Corbin Park Neighborhood (New Smyrna Beach): This project will involve installing a new storm drain and replacing existing aging assets to mitigate flooding conditions.
  • 10th Street/Mills Drive (New Smyrna Beach): This project will include the rehabilitation of existing retention ponds and the installation of a storm drain to alleviate flood conditions.
  • Stormwater management program
    In addition to specific projects, the county has a robust stormwater management program designed to improve stormwater quality, improve maintenance of drainage facilities, and reduce flooding in buildings and streets. Under this program, the county maintains approximately 154 miles of open canals, 375 miles of roadside ditches, 9,757 drainage structures, 222 miles of storm drains, and 269 ponds.

Brevard County:

  • Over the past five (5) years, the county has invested over $2 million in specialized equipment (e.g. Kaiser 4×4 spider diggers) to reach canals and major dumps that are only accessible by in the center of the drainage system. We now have three (3) Kaisers (South, Central, North) and Heavy Equipment Operators whose primary job is to clean and maintain the major drainage outfall systems throughout the year.
  • In addition, Public Works created a county-wide drainage program consisting of three (3) four-person crews (south, center, north) and the purchase of three (3) Gradall excavators and dump trucks. Crews rehabilitate and restore non-functional valley systems from December 1 to April 30 and clean ditches from May to November 30e every year. To date, crews across the county have cleaned and maintained more than 700 miles of drainage systems since Hurricane Irma.
  • In addition, we spent millions of dollars replacing failing metal culverts that had exceeded their lifespan. In many cases we have resized the culverts, some changing from pipes to box culverts, and in almost all cases we have replaced the metal culverts under our roadways with reinforced concrete pipes.
  • We have spent thousands of dollars outsourcing drainage studies to our engineering consultants. The studies provide an in-depth analysis of drainage in a regional area and include a pre-designed master plan with construction cost estimates for budgeting for multi-year capital improvement drainage projects. Examples include the master plan for Indian Harbor Beach in District 5 and Newfound Harbor in District 2, currently one is underway in West Cocoa and another is planned for the West Mims/Scottsmoor area.
  • Public Works currently has 28 drainage projects in the planning, design or construction phase.
  • Public Works currently has over $60 million in unfunded drainage improvement projects.
  • Natural Resources has spent millions of dollars building the Hall Road Pump Station, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year or sooner. This pump station, along with the Pine Island pump station, will reduce the flood recovery period on northern Merritt Island.

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