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Ike soaks Cape, Lee County; Outer bands cause flooding

By Staff | Sep 11, 2008

Though Southwest Florida will not see the most devastating winds and rains of Hurricane Ike, flooding has been a major problem over the past few days as standing water from Tropical Storm Fay mingles with rains from Ike’s outer bands.

“Any hard rains are going to flood roads right now,” said Gerald Campbell, chief of planning for the Lee County Emergency Operations Center. “Basically, all of our water capacity was filled by Fay.”

Cape Coral residents, particularly in the northwest section of the city, saw flooding block travel through residential areas Wednesday and road closures set up along Diplomat Parkway between Santa Barbara Boulevard and Nelson Road.

A school bus got stuck in a swale, requiring Cape fire department personnel and another bus to assist in transferring the students to school, and several cars stalled as drivers attempted to brave the flooded roads, said city spokesperson Connie Barron.

Rhonda and Brian Sullivan weathered Wednesday’s rains with their five children, ages 5 to 19, in their home at the north end of Northwest Fifth Avenue. The flooding to the north of their home and along Diplomat Parkway nearby stopped short of their property.

“We still feel like we’re stranded,” Rhonda said. “I have to go grocery shopping but I’ve put it off; it’s probably going to take me twice as long to drop my daughter off at work.”

Rhonda homeschools her children and runs a home day care, while Brian has his hands full working for Comcast and taking service calls around the county.

“I told my kids not to play in it,” Rhonda said of the rainwater.

The Cape has had the most flooding of the areas he has seen, Brian said.

“We used to live in the southwest Cape and it wasn’t bad at all,” Rhonda said. “It’s the northwest section.”

Cape Coral Public Works workers had a similar qualm with the common problem of flooding in the northwest.

“It’s a combination of a high tide, the amount of rain that we got, plus the Caloosahatchee (River) is up,” said Public Works Services Supervisor John Ridge on Wednesday. “We had some hot spots this morning.”

Ridge said public works was doing all it could to get flooding to a minimum Wednesday, and among other things was clearing debris from rainwater catch basins in the north Cape with a vactor truck.

An issue that contributes to flooding in that area is the 60-year-old piping system which may be replaced by next year if the design is approved by the South Florida Water Management District.

“It flushes, but it flushes very slowly,” Ridge said. “The new pipe is going to eliminate the emergency up at Diplomat (Parkway) when it rains; we’ve had that problem for a while. We should be up and running by next rainy season.”

Some of the things caught in the catch basins include debris from construction, grass clippings and other garbage.

Ike may strengthen to a Category 3 or 4 storm today and Friday as it heads west by northwest toward the southeastern coast of Texas, but conditions will get better in Lee County, said Accuweather meteorologist Andrew Ulrich.

“I don’t think you’ll even hit an inch (of rain),” Ulrich said about today’s conditions.

That is a stark contrast to Wednesday’s average of 3.88 inches and 1.18 inches Tuesday.

Ulrich said rather than scattered showers, the area might only see one storm today.

“(Today)’s going to be a better day,” he said.

Diplomat Parkway and the Cape Coral Yacht Club boat ramp were reopened Wednesday evening after being closed during the day as a result of flooding. The Chiquita lock was opened with access limited to traffic returning to the spreader canal.

A flood warning for Lee County was expected to be lifted Wednesday at 8:15 p.m.

Lee County Emergency Management and Cape Coral officials said sheet flow from Charlotte County could produce additional flooding in the area, though it was unclear Wednesday what impact that might cause.

The Lee County EOC offered the following advice to residents about flooding:

— Motorists should avoid flooded streets and should not drive through water if they cannot see the road through the water.

— Persons living near streams and creeks or in low-lying areas should monitor water conditions and move to higher ground if conditions get worse.

— Sand and sand bags are available at various local fire stations. Call the Cape Coral Fire Department at 574-3223 to find out more about available locations for sand bags. Do not call 911 for information about sand.

— Do not wade in flood waters because they are contaminated.

— Do not allow children to play in flood waters and keep them away from storm drains; flowing water can cause a person to drown in a storm drain.

— Monitor local media outlets and NOAA Weather Radio for updates.