Orange County looks into buying homes at risk of flooding

Orlo Vista community ravaged by floodwaters

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – As hurricane season approaches, there is still a need for relief in some communities hit hard by storms last year.

Homes in Orange County’s Orlo Vista community were destroyed by floodwaters, and the neighborhood south of Pine Hills had problems even before Hurricane Ian. Commissioner Mike Scott, who represents District 6, tells News 6 the county is now looking into buying out some homeowners who lost everything through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s hazard mitigation assistance program.

“Right now, we are just in a fact-finding phase, asking questions,” Scott said. “Letting folks know, ‘Hey, here’s an opportunity available for you. Who’s interested?’ And if you’re interested, here is the information we need to be able to push this forward.”

Scott said there are criteria that need to be met before the county would move forward with an application, so they hope to gauge how much interest is out there in the coming months ahead of the August deadline.

“There may be a few. There may be none at all, but I think the onus is on me to make sure I am letting them know every possible resource,” Scott said.

If they do move forward, the process is not simple. It requires federal, state, and local entities to work together to come to a decision to offer buyouts, which 75% of the cost is paid for by FEMA and the rest from local sources. Funding is often limited, and many properties do not qualify, according to FEMA.

Enel Clerger and his family have spent the past eight months waiting for repairs to be finished so they can move back into their house on Ronnie Circle. On Tuesday, he showed our News 6 team the progress so far to replace the floors and drywall. He said floodwaters came up to 4 feet inside.

“When that happened, the fire department had to go in with their boat to get my family out,” Clerger said.

It was the second flood he experienced in the five years he has called Orlo Vista home.

Plans to improve the storm water system were made after Hurricane Irma in 2017, but the county waited to start work due to construction costs and the mitigation project did not start until this spring.

Scott met with News 6 in Orlo Vista on Tuesday to address concerns from residents there that the county is not doing enough.

“It resulted in some peoples’ homes being damaged greater than what they can afford to repair and one thing that sat with me is, ‘if the county would have done this or that, then maybe we could have saved our memories,’” Scott said. “Certain things just can’t be replaced, so I want them to know that I understand their concerns and the county understands their concerns and we’re going to do everything we can to make them as whole as possible.”

Cynthia Slaughter lost everything after Irma and again after Ian. She said her young granddaughter still asks her about the flooding.

“When we’re passing a pond of water she’ll look over and she’ll say, ‘Nana, your house flooded and I lost all my toys,’” Slaughter said.

Slaughter pointed out the debris still scattered around her neighborhood. She wants to know what else can be done for her family and her community.

“It’s depressing driving through,” Slaughter said. “I want them to either buy us out, fix it, or do something. Just looking at my neighbors and seeing what we’ve gone through, it’s not good.”

About the Author:

Catherine, born and raised in Central Florida, joined News 6 in April 2022.