Seminole residents continue rebuilding one year after Hurricane Ian floods

Ian brought heavy flooding to homes along Lake Harney in 2022

GENEVA, Fla. – The amount of water on Whitcomb Drive was unbelievable when Hurricane Ian hit, and it kept rising for days after the storm, flooding homes along Lake Harney.

News 6 first spoke to John Carter last September when he took our crew by boat to tour his neighborhood. It was the only way to access his home in Geneva for months.

Carter met with News 6 again Thursday to see how he’s doing now that a year has passed. He said it still feels surreal.

“That year went by pretty fast,” Carter said. “I still have a lot to do.”

Now, Carter’s beloved 1950s fish camp is waiting to be demolished. It’s been a year of phone calls, insurance claims and forms.

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“Filling out forms online with FEMA, the county, the billing department, permitting,” Carter said. “If I could just work, it would be nice, but having to do all of the other minutiae.”

Carter is a veteran and airline pilot. He’s spent the last year flying while trying to spend time rebuilding his home.

Water from Lake Harney surrounded his home and eventually flooded it last year. He recalls standing in waist-deep water in his yard.

“I was able to boat right up to the kitchen door,” Carter said.

He opened his doors for News 6 once again to show off the inside of his home. He’s worked to clear out what he can, but there is much more that needs to be done.

Every family on Whitcomb Drive has their own level of destruction, demolition and recovery. Some homes still have blue tarps on their roofs.

Families are living in trailers in their driveways, though other homes have been rebuilt — hopefully better.

Seminole County’s head of Emergency Management Alan Harris spoke to News 6 about the recovery efforts still underway.

“Holistically, I’d say we are pretty back to normal, but if you live along any tributary, any waterway, you still have a way to go,” Harris said.

Harris said the flooding from Hurricane Ian broke every single record from 2008.

“One of the gauges did read 26 inches,” Harris said. “There is nowhere to put 26 inches of rain.”

Some homes still have mold inside them in the county. There are also still trees down and sediment that needs to be cleared from creeks. The county has done some of that work, but it takes time.

“The amount of unmet needs that we have in the community, they have received some assistance, but the assistance doesn’t actually pay for what’s going on,” said Harris. “You know, they can get first and last month’s rent, but if they have to move out of the place that is very affordable, trying to find a new place, it’s hard because rent is so high right now. Affordable housing is an issue. So there’s a lot of issues going on.”

There is also a lot of progress. Seminole County is working on mitigation efforts, including fixing and enhancing stormwater systems and raising homes out of the flood plain.

“Elevation of homes is in the works right now through some FEMA grants. There are some elevations of homes that have already started to take place using small business loans. Buyouts too,” Harris explained.

Carter plans to apply for assistance to build a new house in the same spot and get out of the trailer he’s currently living in.

“I have an opportunity to just build new out of the flood plain, where a lot of these other people are rebuilding in their current location, and there is the remote possibility that they’re going to flood again,” Carter said.

With this year’s hurricane season underway, county officials said they do have concerns about what would happen if a storm came this way.

“Individuals would still be in FEMA trailers, RVs. People would still not be in such great condition as far as roof repairs and things like that,” Harris said. “Thankfully, we have not been hit by a hurricane this year, but if we did get hit, all of that would be exacerbated even more.”

Carter had hoped his home would be rebuilt by now, but he says it is a slow process. Despite the time and belongings he has lost, Carter still has a positive attitude.

“I’ve lived through my share of adversity, and you just can’t live life being a grump,” Carter said.

He added that this land is his forever home, and he’s determined to make it work.

“The river comes and goes, and it’s a natural thing. I think I am prepared to let it do so,” Carter said. “In my particular case, the hurricane kind of did me a favor. Sure, I lost things along the way, but I think in the overall scheme of things in the long term, it’s probably going to be something that improves my life.”

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About the Author:

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