In the Orlo Vista community, just 15 minutes west of downtown Orlando, the portrait of hurricane Ian’s devastation remains unmistakably clear six 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 Forbes’ case, rescue workers had to rip out the window to get her out of the house and onto dry land.
When asked if it was scary, she responded simply, “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.
We witnessed it all unfold at the time, bringing viewers around the state live coverage of the Orlando water rescues no one could have predicted.
Orange County Lieutenant Jason Oft and other county strike team members 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.
“When you think back to that day, what comes to mind,” asked Reporter Katie LaGrone.
“It was definitely an experience that I’ve never encountered to that depth with the department,” Lt. Oft explained. Oft has been with Orange County Fire Rescue for 14 years.
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 adequately 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,” she explained, since the neighborhood also dealt with significant flooding after Hurricane Irma in 2017.
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 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.
But Williams and some other residents will believe it when they see it.
“It should have started when Irma came through,” she said.
“We’re kind of hanging and hoping for everything this year. That’s all we can do,” explained Danielle Tashner.
As the neighborhood continues to dry out, start over and heal.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get over it. It’s not something I think you ever get over,” said Williams.
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. That plan includes draining the pond and clearing debris, which county officials say they did before Hurricane Ian.