The warnings of vintage cars were correct – Orlando Sentinel

At least since Hurricane Donna decades ago, veterans have warned about places in Florida unsuitable for homes.

Because one day a giant storm would pass by to explain why. It would rain and rain, and even shake things off trees, but mostly rain. Low places would disappear. Inundation would rise to medium heights. High ground would have been stranded.

From a helicopter over a central Florida awash with the first completely blue sky in days, it was clear that Ian was soaked. But while the region had 200,000 inhabitants in Donna’s time in 1960, it now has 2 million. The voices of the old-timers must have drowned in the influx of the population.

Seen from above, Ian’s emblem in Central Florida won’t be broken trees or shaved roofs. Ian’s signature may go down as inky water laps against the windows of abandoned cars, some with their boot lids left open by occupants in haste.

Down in the Fort Myers area, Hurricane Ian shattered neighborhoods.

Not so in the Orlando area, where the water rippled around the vehicles, moving them from hood to door to trunk in group hugs.

Dark waters, judging from above, were not homes. They were pumping them up to their doorbell buttons.

Residents will have to deal with drywall turned into an acid slurry, insulation incubator, washers and dryers that will never run and clothes that can no longer be worn.

As we’ve learned from many aftermaths, the soggy blob of what’s left of a house is even more repulsive when it dries up to a leathery mummy that smells like mildew and death.

With Ian gone and the cooler weather taking its place, the flooded residents’ mobility changed to wading, towing flat-bottomed boats, kayaking, pushing air mattresses or, leading to an image that they couldn’t care less, stubbornly driving through a car. bulldozing standing water.

Even in headphones of helicopter humming and crackling air traffic talk, it wasn’t hard to feel that along those flooded streets, Ian’s gusts of wind had left a calm of defeat.

Some might weigh in on pronouncing Ian as historic, lifetime, 500-year rainfall or a consequence of climate change and an episode of many to come. Just guessing, but those rafts who salvaged belongings to a dry place may have barely had enough bandwidth to say the storm just sucked.

Aerial photos of homes at Storey Lake Boulevard in Kissimmee on September 30, 2022.

Remarkably, from the north of Osceola, over Orange and into Seminole County, the aerial survey underlined that among the developments that were done well (not cheap), with the right stormwater engineering and construction, it was as if there had never been a storm.

They were, or looked amazingly carefree. Their retention ponds, though filled to the brim, did their job. For those houses, for all appearances from above, perhaps the most pressing thought is the football and weekend grilling.

That wasn’t just with neighborhoods and subdivisions in high and designated areas.

Many subdivisions clearly planted in the middle of a wet plain appeared unscathed. Their builders had collected enough fill for houses and dug an intricate maze of large retention ponds to keep flooding at bay.

Also notable was that major highways, with their drainage ponds and raised surfaces, made Ian’s wet work look like water from a duck’s back.

In fact, when I covered that much ground at 100 mph, a question took root. Where has all that damn rain gone?

Aerial views of Lake Eola Park in Orlando in the wake of Hurricane Ian on September 30, 2022.

The Orange County government has two dozen rain gauges across the county. One of them registered 5 inches of Ian rains and another 20 inches. The average was 12.76 inches.

That’s over 1 foot of rain. But not a foot of rain remained on houses or driveways or supermarkets. Those feet of rain flowed away and joined other feet of rain, which joined many more feet of rain.

Why weren’t the floods much more extensive?

There are many reasons. Among them, Ian was not Central Florida’s first storm ride. In recent decades, cities and counties have conquered naturally swampy landscapes through trial and error, upgrades and modifications of a massive system of gutters to storm pipes to canals to rivers.

There have been significant lessons learned, including Tropical Storm Fay in 2008 that engulfed Lake, Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties, dumping 28 inches (or twice the average of Ian’s Orange) on parts of Brevard.

Ian showed how well the collective system works, even if it took some time in some places.

Lake Eola in downtown Orlando rose past the seawall and crossed Robinson Street.

Orlando and parts of Orange County are equipped with so-called drainage wells, or holes drilled hundreds of feet deep in the Floridan Aquifer and relied upon to drain stormwater.

It took a day for drainage wells to get Eola back into place.

A take-home from a helicopter ride was that Central Florida knows how to do effective drainage for difficult conditions — especially with major public works, affluent developments and resort areas — when it wants to.

Most Central Florida residents, even in low-lying areas surrounded by wetlands, gullies, canals and retention ponds swollen to the gills, will take that feat for granted—that feet of water piled upon feet of water did not enter their garage and living spaces.

A vehicle plows through standing water on Polynesian Isle Boulevard in Kissimmee on September 30, 2022.

In the tangle of everything in Central Florida, most people will never experience Ian’s worst punishment. The storm left horrific ruins half a block from perfectly normal.

Ian did widespread pocket destruction: a flooded house here, a flooded car there, a garage stranded by a swollen lake and, from the air, an indelibly strange image. Many backyard pools along the shores of the lake were left under floodwater, mixing shades of aqua blue and amber.

Sure, only some of the misery was visible from above, even as MaxFlight Helicopter Services’ pilot Manuel Dunst nimbly hovered.

Countless people were likely Ian casualties on an individual or private scale, with carpets destroyed by just an inch of flooding and ceilings collapsing from roof leaks.

Lake Eola’s beautiful new floating dock for swan boats was ripped off the pilings and thrown onto the shore under a canopy of trees.

But the massive flood destruction was exactly where the old-timers said it would be.

The Little Wekiva River floods parts of Altamonte Springs on September 30, 2022.

It happened in many of the neighborhoods that led the storm news in the Orlando Sentinel and on television. They fell victim to Shingle Creek south of Orlando, the Little Wekiva River north of Orlando, and the Little Econlockhatchee River to the east.

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From the air, the misery was clearly visible on the streets of the Indian Wells community on the northern edge of Osceola County in the Shingle Creek watershed. It’s entirely possible that the shoppers of the busy Walmart, just a few corners away, had no idea.

Near the intersection of state highways 436 and 434 in Altamonte Springs, the Little Wekiva River took a shortcut along the residential street of Little Wekiva Road. The flow was impressive.

Notorious for being flashy or for sudden rises, the Little Econlockhatchee River flooded multi-family homes southeast of Rouse Road and University Drive in the University of Central Florida ecosphere.

In the coming days, the Wekiva and Econlockhatchee river systems could deteriorate, and both will add to the flooding problems along the larger river to which they drain, the St. Johns.

Then there’s the Orange County Government flood-prone Albatross, the Orlo Vista community that borders State Road 408, a few miles west of Orlando. Government leaders have promised time and again in the past, and have done so after Ian, to manage flooding for Orlo Vista’s modest homes.

Maybe they should keep an eye on the vintage cars.

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