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Weeks after Ian, floodwaters are still leaving some Florida communities stranded


Flooding is still receding in Florida's interior more than two weeks after Hurricane Ian. Amy Green of WMFE in Orlando visited a neighborhood where the only road in remains washed out, and that leaves many residents stranded.

AMY GREEN, BYLINE: Getting to Lake Harney Woods is no easy task. The bridge here across the St. Johns River is impassable, with 3 feet of water over the bridge. To cross the river, I took a detour that added about an hour.

Hi. Are you Cindy?

CINDY DECKER: Hey, there. Yes, I'm Cindy.

GREEN: Cindy Decker and her family picked me up outside the neighborhood on their side-by-side, which is a swamp buggy of sorts that sits high off the ground. These vehicles cut a wake through the up to a foot and a half of water on the road.

C DECKER: So if we happen to pass another vehicle, pick your feet up (laughter).

GREEN: For Decker, it was a nerve-racking trip.

C DECKER: We don't know what the condition of the road is underneath the water or underneath the asphalt.

GREEN: The county stopped picking up trash from the neighborhood because of concerns about the road's condition. And inside the neighborhood, the trash was piling up. Later on dry land, Cindy's 12-year-old daughter Dilainee said the worst part about the flooding is she can't go to school.

DILAINEE DECKER: It's kind of annoying because I don't have too many friends out here, except for the kids at the bus stop. But, obviously, the bus isn't coming out here.

GREEN: Lake Harney Woods is a pastoral community of some 220 homes, many with a few acres in livestock, like cows, horses and chickens. It's situated on Lake Harney, which is part of the St. Johns River. The St. Johns is the longest river in Florida. It flows north through east central Florida to Jacksonville and then out to the Atlantic Ocean. Since Hurricane Ian dumped a monumental 20 inches of rain on parts of the region, the river has remained swollen as widespread floodwaters continue to drain through tributaries on their way out to sea.

Lisa Rinaman with the environmental organization St. Johns Riverkeeper says, in some places, like Lake Harney Woods, it could be Thanksgiving before the waters fully recede.

LISA RINAMAN: The St. Johns is known as one of the laziest rivers in the country because it's a long river, but it only drops in elevation, that 27 feet - most of that's in the first hundred miles.

GREEN: Residents are coping by relying on each other. John Pellerin lives with his wife on nearly 6 acres, where they have a horse, cows, chickens and other animals. He's been sharing eggs with needy neighbors.

JOHN PELLERIN: We've got one neighbor out here that has been transporting people's cars on a car hauler trailer with his big 4x4 in and out so they could park up on 46 so they could get to and from work.

GREEN: The cars are lined up outside the neighborhood. Residents arrange a ride across the swamped street with someone who has a vehicle that can manage the water. Then they get in their own cars and go to work. But it can be a long drive because of that impassable bridge. Other residents have made a point to check on neighbors to make sure everyone is OK.

Cindy Decker's husband, Martin, says there has been flooding before, but never like this.

MARTIN DECKER: We've been out here 26 years and been through numerous hurricanes. This is the worst it's ever been.

GREEN: Cindy Decker says, since Hurricane Ian, she has left the neighborhood only twice, and neither she nor her husband have returned to work yet.

C DECKER: It's tough being, you know, stuck with no place to go and nothing to do. But we do have a community here.

GREEN: They feel a little abandoned, with so much attention on southwest Florida, where Hurricane Ian destroyed coastal communities. But they also feel fortunate that their plight is not worse.

For NPR News, I'm Amy Green in Lake Harney Woods, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Amy Green