BY STEPHEN HUDAK
ORLANDO – Surging waters spawned by Hurricane Irma’s heavy rains caused flooding in several parts of Central Florida on Tuesday, even as power was slowly being restored and the massive cleanup effort began.
About 400 people, including nursing home residents with special needs, were evacuated Tuesday from Good Samaritan Society’s flood-prone Kissimmee Village.
The 425-acre gated retirement community south of Kissimmee flooded at the highest level ever, county officials said.
“Many of the people here are not just over the age of 55 but over 80,” said Good Samaritan resident Lynne VonEsch, 76, who was pacing the parking lot of a shelter Tuesday with Marnie, her 7-year-old Goldendoodle, a therapy dog.
Rising waters also threatened neighborhoods along the Little Wekiva River in Seminole County, in Apopka, in eastern Lake County and near the University of Central Florida.
Flooding from the Little Wekiva forced the evacuation of 61 people and 18 pets from Spring Oaks, an Altamonte Springs subdivision just north of State Road 436. Evacuees were taken to shelters.
Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz said the city would “assess the stability” of homes after the water recedes. He was not sure when that would be.
About 90 homes in the Oaks of Wekiva were in danger of flooding because of an overflowing retention pond, Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer said.
“You’ve got a whole subdivision of people watching the steadily rising water,” Kilsheimer said.
Some residents at The Place, an apartment complex on Alafaya Trail near UCF, reported water in their units.
Sheila Bonnough, 23, who had fled to her parents’ home in Melbourne, was alerted by a friend to flooding that ruined her furniture.
“When he left it was up to his ankles,” she said.
The owners of Wekiva Island closed the entertainment complex on the river’s southern edge amid fears of flooding.
“The water is knee deep throughout the park,” said Mary Sue Weinaug, whose husband owns the venue. “We now have 5 1/2 acres of river flowing through our property.”
‘No Wake Zone’
The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for the rural community of Astor in eastern Lake County.
“Astor flood waters have reached levels never seen before,” county spokeswoman Elisha Pappacoda said.
County officials urged residents in Astor and nearby Lake George to evacuate, imposed a curfew from 9 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. in the area, and began enforcing a “No Wake Zone” on the St. Johns River.
Although most shelters in Central Florida closed, some evacuees who sought refuge from Irma could not go home.
Church a haven
Some homes were deemed no longer fit to live in and others were still without power late Tuesday.
An auditorium at a Longwood mega-church — Northland, a Church Distributed — became a temporary haven for evacuees who had been staying at Red Cross-run shelters.
Among the 150 people at the Northland, Marvelene Kooistra, 95, was persuaded by her Maitland neighbors to go to the church rather than back home.
“I told them, ‘I can live in my house with no air conditioning. I can eat out of a can,’ ” she said. “But I was outvoted.”
Wanted: AC, shower
Residents across Central Florida started the massive cleanup of knocked-down trees, fences and pool enclosures, while hundreds of thousands of people waited to be reconnected to the region’s power grid more than 40 hours after Irma.
Cynthia Gorel, who spent Tuesday picking up twigs and other storm debris in a dress, said she was tired of the post-Irma diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The Winter Park woman also said she longed for an air-conditioned room and a hot shower.
“I may try to find a hotel tonight,” she said.
But many others got power back, a signal that life in Central Florida is slowly returning to normal.
More and more grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses reopened.
Melissa Newton of Winter Springs took her 5-year-old son Dylan to Aloma Bowl to blow off energy.
“He’s been cooped up in the house for days,” she said as he lobbed an orange ball that bounced then rolled into a gutter.
Dozens had the same idea.
“We’ve been getting calls all day,” said Jennifer Halpern, the bowling alley manager.
She said most callers asked two questions: Do you have air conditioning and can we charge our phones there?
The storm, blamed for 12 deaths in Florida, also may cost Orlando International Airport as much as $20 million, according to an early estimate by Phil Brown, executive director for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.
He said the airport suffered substantial storm damage, including some from flooding. A JetBlue hangar lost its roof and contractors had to repair broken jet bridges, clear waterlogged parking areas and remove debris prior to flights resuming Tuesday.
“We expect, over the next several days, the airlines are going to ramp up to full service,” Brown said.
Staff writers Martin E. Comas, Ryan Gillespie, Bianca Padro Ocasio, Jason Ruiter, Kate Santich and Jeffrey Weiner contributed to this story.