In the Orlo Vista community, just 15 minutes west of downtown Orlando, the portrait of hurricane Ian’s devastation remains unmistakably clear 6 months after the hurricane ripped through the city.
Along Hope Circle, storage pods and big trash containers sit in front of several homes while mold restoration crews continue cleaning up the damage.
Inside Gladys Forbes’ home along the circle, her kitchen cabinets are still missing, mold is still growing, and the 80-year-old still needs a moment to compose herself when describing the September flood.
Forbes was among nearly 300 residents who live on or around Hope Circle who had to be rescued by boat hours after Hurricane Ian left its mark on the inland city. In her case, rescue workers had to rip out a window to get her out of the house and onto dry land.
When asked if it was scary, she responded simple, “oh yes, very scary.” Outside her home, the water lines on the side of her home have yet to wash away.
The floods following Hurricane Ian here were, after all, history-making for this community.
Orange County Lieutenant Jason Oft and other members of the county’s strike-team had spent nearly 36 hours at the time saving people from their flood ridden homes.
“This is where all the water was coming in,” Lt. Oft showed us during our recent visit back to the community. “It was definitely an experience that I’ve never encountered to that depth with the department.”
For him and his team, the desperate calls for help began long before dawn the night Hurricane Ian came through the city.
“As soon as you came around the corner, you could see all the flashers of all the cars under the water,” Lt. Oft described. “We started checking them and people were just screaming, we’re over here, we’re over here. All you could see were flashlights trying to signal us that they were there. We’re like don’t worry, we’re coming,” he said.
When asked if it ever got to a point when he was frightened, Lt. Oft responded, “when I started floating because the water was high, I was like oh man!”
In this low-lying neighborhood adjacent to a retention pond, some residents blame the county for not properly preparing the community for Hurricane Ian’s rainfall.
“It was like a big ocean just came and covered the whole neighborhood,” explained long-time resident Lervesca Williams. “I didn’t expect this. Some things you can’t control but this should have been controlled.
Williams’ is still in the process of rebuilding her own home.
“Everything had to be gutted out. No clothes, no shoes, the stove, the refrigerator anything. It’s just like starting over from scratch,” she explained.
While cleaning up and rebuilding remains much of the picture in the Orlo Vista community, six months after those devastating floods, there’s reason to have new hope on Hope Circle. The county is moving forward with a new flood mitigating project that aims to stop the area from flooding.
Another pipe, a new pump station and reshaping the nearby retention pond to add another 10 feet are all part of the plan. However, Williams and some other residents will believe it when they see it.
“It should have started when Irma came through,” she said.
According to the county, the $23 million flood project should take about 15-months to complete. While some residents are concerned about the neighborhood flooding again if there’s another major storm this hurricane season, a spokesperson from Orange County said they have a multi-layered plan in place should another major rainmaker hit.