People living along St. Johns River band together in face of rising waters

Many Astor residents refuse to evacuate

By Adrianna Iwasinski - Investigative Reporter

ASTOR, Fla. - People who live along the St. John's River say it has risen at least an inch and encroached another 5 feet in the days since Hurricane Irma struck the area.

"There's sticks that I placed to see at its high point, said Bill Arwood,  who lives in a rental along the river. "And yesterday was probably the quickest incursion."

On Wednesday, the Lake County Sheriff's Office took News 6 on a tour of this small tight-knit neighborhood on the west side of the St. Johns River.

They've encouraged people here to evacuate but not many will.  Deputies have even handed out flyers letting them know where they can seek shelter.

The Lake County Sheriff's Office is already patrolling the river to make sure people abide by the no-wake zone to prevent any more water from rushing in, but they can't control the weather or the rain that is expected to hit the area Thursday.

Another problem in the area is the danger of animals like snakes and alligators. Arwood said he's already seen an alligator swimming near his house.

"When we get to the point we can't stay we will evacuate," Atwood said.

The Lodge RV park on Jungle Den Road, which is located in the portion of Astor that is on the east side of the St. Johns River in Volusia County, has been evacuated.

Power lines are down, the sewer system is down and as a result, officials are not letting anyone back in until everything can be repaired and brought back online.

For those who have decided to stay in Astor, one pastor and his wife are trying to get results for their flooded community by flooding it with love.

"This is the canoe I went home in this morning and this is how we're getting home every day," Debbie Holland said.

Holland is the pastor's wife at the First Baptist Church in Astor. Her husband's water-soaked boots sit outside, while inside they have a place for people to find shelter. They are staying here even though they don't have to.

"We want to help the people in Astor," Holland said. "I can tell you my daughter is in Bradenton and has power and she wants us to come to her really bad and I told her we need to stay here and help her community."

They may not have power at the church, but they have plenty of space, some food and a gas stove to cook on. And plenty of love to share.

"(I) do have some stuff in our freezer I'm going to cook tonight and if you come by I'll feed you," Holland said.

She says as long as the people living by the St. Johns River stay put, so will they.

"Our hearts are here," Holland said.

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