Record storm surge from Idalia floods Tampa Bay’s beach neighborhoods

INDIAN SHORES — Hurricane Idalia brought the beach past the boardwalk and down the grates of Gulf Boulevard.

Two Pinellas County task force workers arrived at 7:30 a.m. to clean out the sewage systems to help with drainage. Two hours later, a mound of sand and muck from three drains and the plow that pulled it out blocked the street.

Around them, the surf erased the shore and lapped the back porches of homes on the Intracoastal Waterway. Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Chuck Skipper took it all in.

For the most part, roof shingles remained in place, windows were intact and trees and power poles stood upright, even as much of the northern Pinellas County shoreline was underwater.

“In my experience, the storm surge was the highest I’ve seen in 29 years,” said Skipper, from behind the wheel of his patrol sport utility vehicle. He’s seen flooding on Alternative U.S. 19 and in Safety Harbor, but not like this.

Hurricane Idalia largely spared Tampa Bay. But it brought 4 to 7 feet of storm surge, exacerbated by high tides. Preliminary measurements indicate it was a record-high storm surge. In neighborhoods to the north, such as Ozona, houses were left with water marks a foot high. Deputies rescued some who needed to leave their homes.

Deputies closed 55 roads, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Wednesday morning. Skipper pointed out a channel marker in aptly named Hurricane Pass traveled at least 100 yards and washed up on the bank of the Dunedin Causeway. Surrounding areas used for parking became part of the gulf.

Residents whose streets weren’t marked off with traffic signs that warned of roads under water came out to see marinas and boats level with the shore. Water stood under park benches and carried heavy plastic parking blocks to the middle of parking lots.

“This is definitely the most water we’ve seen,” said Charlotta Kruger, 36, who walked barefoot through foot-deep water along Sunset Point Road to Edgewater Drive Park with her husband and three daughters. “We’re glad we live up there.”

In his 40 years of living in Dunedin, Rene Remund, too, said he had never seen the water crest over the seawall to the porte-cochere of the Fenway Hotel.

“It’s quite the sight,” said Remund, 70, who came with his wife, Linda.

Like many others who ventured out of their homes Wednesday morning, the Remunds came on foot to take cellphone videos of Edgewater Drive, which had lost its edge to the water. Kids rode through on bikes and families played barefoot in the gulf that came up past the street, closing it to car traffic.

“We definitely enjoy this,” said Brandi Baker, 43, who came to the scenic drive with her three kids. “This is like a snow day for the kids.”

Several people said their homes didn’t suffer any damage and still had electricity. Regina and Rob Palmer, who just bought their condo at the new Serena by the Sea development in Clearwater three months ago, called it “perfect timing.” They were sold on the developer’s idea to put more steel and concrete into the building.

From their fourth-story window, using binoculars they could see others across the bay weren’t as lucky.

“We felt safer there,” said Regina Palmer, 50.

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