Residents at Winter Springs retirement community struggle with massive flooding

Residents at Hacienda Village, a 55-plus manufactured housing community in Winter Springs, have not had power for days and are struggling to live in the heat with a boil water notice.

Winter Springs issued a city-wide precautionary boil-water notice on Sept. 29 due to multiple water main breaks. The notice is still active.

“I didn’t find out about the boil water notice until this morning,” Robert Graham said. “I usually watch TV and go online to find out anything but we don’t have power so we are totally in the dark.”

Graham, 81, is a disabled Vietnam veteran who couldn’t go to a shelter because he has trouble getting up and down after having 28 surgeries.

“My dog has been having diarrhea and he’s been drinking the water so maybe that’s why,” Graham said about the boil water notice in the city.

Graham said he had almost a foot of water enter his home and couldn’t get out of his house because his street was flooded so badly. He hopes the money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will help repair the water damage to his home.

Gee Creek runs behind Hacienda Village and contributed to some of the widespread flooding. The creek is within the Lake Jesup watershed which is one of the rivers that Seminole County officials have been warning will continue to rise and flood more communities.

The St. Johns River, which runs through Seminole and Volusia counties, is another river officials are worried will increase flooding. In preparation, Volusia County announced prefilled sandbags are available at the Osteen Civic Center on Sunday and hot meals will be available at the center by the Salvation Army.

In Osceola County, officials warn of a similar continued rise in flood water and issued a voluntary evacuation order on Sunday for Edgewater, Whisler Court, Turtle Creek, Oaktree Point, Chisholm Ridge, Hidden Oaks, Rummel-Rookery, Lake Runny Mead mobile home park, Ashton Place and Oaktree Point.

In Hacienda Village, one section of the community has power but the other two sections are still without power because the main transformer boxes are underwater.

“The main issue here is power,” said William Shepherd, 72. “There’s a lot of people that live here and use oxygen so I worry about them not having power.”

Shepherd didn’t get flooding into his home but has had to use water bottles for everything because he can’t boil water without electricity. His wife had open heart surgery a month ago which made enduring the heat without power and using water bottles more difficult, as he is now in caretaker mode, he said.

“The creek runs behind the house and I had like up to here of water and it came leaking through the roof too,” Barbara Frew said while pointing just below the three steps into her home.

Frew, 80, lives alone at Hacienda Villages after her husband died in 2020. During the storm, her granddaughter came to stay with her and her three guinea pigs, one dog and five cats. Together they watched the water rise up and cover nearly all three steps into her house and almost the entire air conditioning unit. Luckily the water didn’t reach the inside of the house.

“The water rushed into the baseboard so fast and covered the ducts under the house,” Frew said.

Further down the road, Robin Waters, 60, and her husband Cedrick, 64, were sorting their belongings and running a generator to power a fan and a TV where football was playing. The couple left before the storm and came back on Saturday to find water had entered one room of the home and covered the entire duct system underneath the home.

“I worry about the ceiling with mold or mildew,” Cedrick Waters said.

The couple stayed with their children during the storm and Robin Waters planned on returning to sleep with air conditioning but her husband will likely stay in the damaged home.

“I feel displaced,” Robin Waters said.

The couple said they had no idea how they are going to pay for the water damage especially since they had just finished remodeling their home.

“Some things you just can’t do anything about, especially water,” Robin Waters said. “We feel lucky to just have those little problems.”

Bobbi Bitts, 77, lives a few houses from the Waters. She had to throw away most of her furniture due to the feet of water that got into her home. Bitts said her streets have flooded three times before but this was the worst flooding as it entered her house for the first time.

She said she needs help to get her house back.

“I can’t get ahold of FEMA,” Bitts said. “I had to put my dog in the pound because I don’t have a place to house him anymore.”

The Seminole County Fire Department was on Britt’s street around 2:30 p.m. Sunday attempting to clear out tree branches and debris from the storm drain to allow water to pass through quicker.

The county is aware of the widespread flooding at Hacienda Villages and took action to evacuate residents, Ashley Moore, county spokesperson, said in an email. There are roughly 130 households that remain in place out of the 700 homes in the community and are being monitored by the Winter Springs Police Department and the Seminole County Fire Department, Moore said.

“Flooding continues to increase in our community as other areas continue to decrease,” said Alan Harris, Seminole County emergency manager at a press conference Sunday morning.

There is a possibility that flood waters may continue to rise along the lakefront areas of the county, Harris said. Damage assessments continue as other areas of our community are impacted, Harris said.

Duke Energy, which runs power within the retirement community, reports that 90% of power should be restored by midnight, Harris said.

Since Hurricane Ian made landfall, the Seminole County Fire Department has rescued around 175 people from floodwaters in Oviedo, Winter Springs, Altamonte Springs and Geneva, said county fire Chief Matt Kinley.

FEMA will open a disaster recovery center in the county, Harris said, so residents can use internet access to apply for aid. A location has not yet been announced.