Kissimmee neighborhood rebuilds after Hurricane Ian

Progress has been slow for some — and even slower for others, residents say

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Dellwood Park — a neigborhood in Kissimmee — was struck hard by Hurricane Ian earlier this year, leaving many of the residents to recover from the heavy floods brought in by the storm.

It was 5:30 a.m., and News 6 was reporting live in the middle of Hurricane Ian when April Higbie appeared barefoot from the darkness after she and her 71-year-old mother climbed out a window to escape the rising flood water in their home.

“This has got to be probably one of the worst hurricanes I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I’ve had a few,” Higbie said at the time. “It just kept creeping up. Now, it’s like to the waist.”

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She shot video inside the house when they still thought they could stay. It was halfway up their lower cabinets, and the water kept rising, she said.

Two months later, the house is livable, but it still has a ways to go.

“I just got a bed two days ago. I think my mom got hers about a week ago, so it’s been a long time,” Higbie said.

She added that the process has been slow.

“It’s a little frustrating, but we’re alive, right? We’ve got to stay positive, stay focused,” Higbie said.

She said that when they decided to leave, the water was the height of the windows.

“The doors were so heavy because the water pressure was so intense. We couldn’t open the door,” she said. “We were concerned the same thing would happen to the windows if we didn’t leave, so we had to either jump out the widow or jump on the counter.”

Hours after the Higbies escaped, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office rescued many others from the neighborhood by airboat.

Higbie said her mother got rid of her flood insurance months before the storm, so they are depending on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover the repairs.

“We just put up the walls. They look good,” Higbie said.

The sheetrock had to be replaced throughout the house.

The kitchen counters and cabinets are brand new, but for others in the neighborhood, the process is much slower.

Her next-door neighbor’s house was stripped to the studs, too. They are still re-wiring, re-plumbing and still no floors.

Another neighbor ripped out their kitchen but said they are still waiting on FEMA, so the work has halted, and the home reeks of mold.

Many of the homes in the neighborhood have appliances under the carport. The storm was the first problem. Since the storm, they are having another problem: theft, according to residents.

Luis Gomez with CLG Mold Xperts is repairing a home in the neighborhood. The homeowner has installed cameras, but he still can’t leave his tools in the house overnight.

“Because they’re breaking into the houses,” Gomez said.

Higbie and her mom have moved back in.

They said they still have a way to go, but they are grateful for how far they’ve come

“Maybe in a couple of months, we’ll be at 100%” she said. “But right now, we’re just going to enjoy Christmas and be positive, right?”

Higbie has three cats. She initially tried to take them, too, but she couldn’t manage it, so she sat them on top of the kitchen cabinets. All three survived.

As a condition of the assistance, FEMA is requiring Higbie to obtain flood insurance since the area is in a flood zone. It had not flooded in 40 years, residents say.

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About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.