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Monday, September 27, 2021

Tropical storm Elsa brings torrent of damages and hazards for county residents

Alachua County experienced difficulties in the aftermath of its first tropical storm this year

A deserted Toyota RAV-4 on Northwest Fourth Boulevard in Gainesville on Wednesday, July 7, 2021. The Gainesville Police Department stated this vehicle and one other got stuck after drivers attempted to cross the flooded street.
A deserted Toyota RAV-4 on Northwest Fourth Boulevard in Gainesville on Wednesday, July 7, 2021. The Gainesville Police Department stated this vehicle and one other got stuck after drivers attempted to cross the flooded street.

Tropical Storm Elsa hit Alachua County July 7, bringing flooding, sunken cars, power outages and fallen trees

Although the storm has passed, Gainesville residents are still dealing with the effects, which some said were unprecedented.  

“I've lived here for 38 years of my life, and this is the wettest that I've seen since 1990,” Dorothy Cayce, a homeowner on Southwest 56th Avenue, said. 

She said the standing water brought by Elsa has disrupted her property’s water system.

“I can't wash my dishes, I cannot flush my toilets and I cannot take a shower inside,” she said. 

Victoria Laan, a 62-year-old retiree, was driving home from helping a friend on the afternoon of July 7 and said she was shocked to find flooding at the intersection of Southwest 34th Street and Williston Road. 

“I think some of the rain issues were definitely caused by all the new construction that's going on,” she said. “As a county, we really need to make sure we're making good decisions for everybody.”

She said seeing the flooding reminded her how much Gainesville has changed. 

“I felt deeply affected because I grew up on that road, and I have never seen that intersection flood before,” she said. “I was born in Gainesville and been down that intersection many times, been through many hurricanes — never flooded like that.”

Leslie Patterson, a 37-year-old waitress and resident of 63rd Avenue, or Rocky Point, said construction in the area has worsened flooding issues.

“All these new buildings going up and new neighborhoods that were flood zones, like where is this water supposed to go,” she said. “That's my concern just about any storm season coming up. But this is just a small tropical storm. What’s gonna happen till the next big one?”

New infrastructure developments in the area are making some residents feel as though county officials are apathetic to their concerns. 

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However, Patterson said she does believe the county is proactive with checking on rural areas and opening shelters in emergency situations. She said she appreciates how active the county is in updating and sharing information on social media. 

“They’re really pretty good about opening shelters and going in rural areas to check on people,” she said. “To me, it's mostly about the little communities inside of the community—the little people you don’t see.”

An Alachua County update encouraged residents to stay home and avoid driving in flooded areas. Road closures are still in place as of Thursday evening and will be updated by the county. 

“We just want to make sure that people understand that there are still some dangerous conditions out there,” Mark Sexton, Alachua County’s communications and legislative affairs director, said. 

Sexton said no fatalities have been reported in the county.

Alachua County has also advised residents to avoid flooded waters entirely. 

“If you come up on standing water, and you have any question about what depth it is, just turn around,” Sexton said. “I mean, the old saying is ‘turn around, don't drown,’ and this is the time to keep that in mind or you don’t want to flood out your car and be stranded.”

Contact Phong Huynh at phunyh@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @phongphont.

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