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DeSoto County EOC Director reflects on Ian's flooding ahead of hurricane season

Posted at 5:34 PM, May 30, 2024

ARCADIA, Fla. — When you think about Hurricane Ian, you think about places like Fort Myers Beach and the storm surge that came along with it. What is a little talked about is the impacts to places like DeSoto County. In Arcadia at DeSoto Veterans Memorial Park, the water crested at 23.7 feet, 12.7 feet above flood stage along the Peace River.

Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley spoke with DeSoto County Emergency Management about the flooding that they saw during Ian and the lessons learned ahead of this upcoming hurricane season.

“Either driving around or helicopter and seeing where you could barely see a roof top,” said Rick Christoff, the DeSoto County emergency management director. “Or you saw a trailer or something that was floating down the river.”

Christoff was running the county’s emergency operations center during Hurricane Ian, a storm that brought what he calls unprecedented flooding.

“Even talking to people that have been here during some of the other hurricanes; Irma, Charley. Those were more wind events, not as much flooding,” said Christoff. “Historically, there are certain areas where you know there will be flooding, certain roadways will be impassable. But nothing like we experienced there.”

Hurricane Ian dropped over a foot of rain on Arcadia over 3 days, including over 10 inches in just 6 hours during the peak of the storm. That heavy rainfall plus the additional water flowing down from Central Florida caused both Horse Creek and Peace River to reach record high levels, washing out several major roadways.

“We had some of them that collapsed,” said Christoff. “Everything was impassable in those areas. We had some areas that were isolated. And the only way to get to them was boats and air boats.”

The flooding didn’t just damage infrastructure, but also severely impacted the agricultural industry.

“With a large amount of cattle being lost, a large amount of acreage and crops being impacted by that,” said Christoff. “And it takes years to recover from that.”

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences estimated commodity losses in the county to be over 66 million dollars directly from Ian.

“With the amount of water that we ended up getting, I think that people don’t always think of that,” said Christoff. “They relate it to the last incident, the last hurricane, where impacts weren’t as bad. So, they are like this isn’t going to be bad either.”

Dr. Laura Myers, a senior scientist and director of resilience at the University of Alabama says that it is a dangerous mindset to have.

"Nobody should think they’re safe because you never know where this rain is going to fall,” said Dr. Myers. “You never know from event to event how it’s going to be different from the last one. Don’t rely on the fact that it may have never flooded at your location because this may be the first time it does flood at your location.

This is why even if you are in an inland community, now is still the time to prepare. According to NOAA, 55% of deaths in a hurricane come from freshwater flooding. Also remember that you see a flooded roadway, do not attempt to drive through it. Just a foot of rushing water can carry a car away.