Residents in St. Petersburg’s Shore Acres neighborhood aren’t strangers to flooding — yet Idalia, they said, was different.
The punishing Category 3 hurricane brought storm surge rushing through Tampa Bay before it made landfall and pummeled the coast along Florida’s Big Bend. The storm stayed more than 100 miles offshore, as it passed the Tampa Bay region, but low-lying areas, like Shore Acres, still saw several feet of floodwater.
For hours Wednesday, firefighters used rescue boats to evacuate people from inundated homes in the neighborhood. They struggled to fight a house fire on Bayou Grande Boulevard NE because the roads were so flooded. They only pulled their rescue boats in when the bay’s tide receded in late afternoon, leaving residents to survey the damage.
Many described devastation — and wanting to help.
The Shore Acres Recreation Center, off 40th Avenue NE, served as an unofficial marker of flooded areas. To the east, properties took on water. To the west, they stayed dry.
Simon Beadle, 56, rode out of the flood zone in his friends’ mammoth black Toyota FJ cruiser.
They were stopped by a man asking for a ride, so he could check on his home off Bayshore Boulevard NE.
“I’m hoping it’s not too bad,” said Wilson Birdwell, 83, who retreated to stay with friends on higher ground Tuesday evening.
Beadle described a day of wading hip-deep into water to reach his parents. Of stripping the carpets inside because of the flood. Of being exhausted.
“We spent the day recovering,” he said.
Janecia Wallace was among those rescued by firefighters. Water started rushing into her house at 6 a.m. By sunrise, it was coming into her room.
“We were loading water into buckets in our sinks and bathroom,” the 18-year-old said. “It’s come in before, but never this high or this bad.”
Chris Mason, 14, kayaked through the neighborhood for hours. He checked on the home of a friend who’d evacuated to Georgia. A foot of water surrounded it. Recycling bins and garbage cans floated by.
At 2 p.m., the water still came up to Mason’s waist.
“I’ve lived here my whole life,” he said. “Whenever there’s a hurricane it floods bad. But never like this.”
On the edge of the floodwater, Scott Straughn, 65, spent the day witnessing his lower-ground neighbors evacuate.
“It’s a parade of people leaving their homes. Proud people, with their kids. This is the highest it’s been in 50 years,” he said. “All my neighbors are saying the same thing. And they’re crying inside their homes — if they’re the fortunate ones.”
Water rose up to Straughn’s lawn. His generator won’t start. His power is still out.
But Straughn considers himself lucky.
“I don’t care what’s in my fridge, I can replace it,” he said. “These people, they have to replace everything.”
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