Seminole surveys Nicole’s damage: ‘Wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been’

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

Tropical Storm Nicole brought Seminole County two days of steady rains and wind gusts that topped more than 50 mph in Sanford.

But she didn’t deliver the same punch as her predecessor, Hurricane Ian, more than a month earlier.

“It was bad, but it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been,” said Alan Harris, chief administrator for Seminole’s office of emergency management, in assessing the damage on Thursday.

Still, Nicole dropped more than six inches of rain along the St. Johns River basin, which includes lakes Harney, Jesup and Monroe, according to county data.

That much rainwater could bring another round of flooding in the coming days to low-lying areas around those lakes, where scores of flooded homes continue drying out after Ian dropped a historic deluge of more than a foot of rain as a tropical storm in late September.

Lake Monroe is expected to rise to just over seven feet above sea level next week and spill over Sanford’s seawall along Seminole Boulevard, Harris said.

But it will not lead to widespread flooding as after Ian tore through Central Florida and caused water levels on Lake Monroe to crest at a record 8.7 feet above sea level on Oct. 7, more than a week after the storm.

Lake Monroe, along with lakes Harney and Jesup, are part of the St. Johns River, which flows north from Brevard County to the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville. Days after a large rain event, such as a tropical storm or hurricane, the areas around those lakes will flood as the bloated river flows north.

Several sections of Seminole Boulevard along Sanford’s popular River Walk remained flooded Thursday from Ian’s rains. And Nicole’s deluge didn’t help, officials said.

Even so, county officials don’t expect the public road into the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens and the parking lot at HCA Florida Hospital to flood again. Both facilities sit directly south of Lake Monroe and had knee-deep water after Ian.

About 80 homes in Seminole remain flooded from Ian, and many of those properties sit along Lake Harney in Geneva. Some residents continue using boats to access their homes, Harris said. So, with more rain, it’s likely it will take longer for those waters to recede, officials said.

County emergency crews on Wednesday closed about 20 roads to clear debris — including fallen trees, limbs and branches — downed from Nicole’s winds, before re-opening them.

Nearly 26,000 utility customers lost power as Nicole barreled across the region, according to Duke Energy and Florida Power and Light.

At the Orlando Sanford International Airport, wind gusts of 53 mph were reported on Wednesday morning.

At Fort Mellon Park, several trees had toppled over from the winds.

Hector Echeverria, who lives in an apartment nearby, stopped to take a look as he walked his dog.

“I could hear the wind howling all night,” he said. “But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. At least I’m safe and dry. That’s what matters.”

mcomas@orlandosentinel.com