South Tampa flooding besieges El Prado Boulevard

By Kim Wilmath, Times Staff Writer

Published Monday, July 27, 2009

TAMPA — Big trucks seemed to show off as they sprayed walls of water over compact cars floating nearby. People took to kayaks or waded through the stream. They headed for high ground and sat in fear for their belongings.

This was no hurricane or monster truck display — just a summer afternoon thunderstorm on El Prado Boulevard.

Professional photographer Amy Martz and her husband, on the way home from a meeting with a client Sunday about 6:45 p.m., had their cameras with them and captured it all. Martz said they waited two to three hours in the middle of the sudden lake for fear of floating away.

"People always say, 'Why did you go through it?' But all of a sudden you're just in it," Martz said.

Bay News 9 forecaster Juli Marquez said Tampa officially got 1.38 inches of rain Sunday, but some parts of South Tampa may have seen closer to 2 inches.

Chuck Walter, director of Tampa's stormwater department, said the area at Manhattan Avenue and El Prado Boulevard has a "big-time known flooding problem." The drains near those streets were functioning correctly Sunday, but the rain overloaded them for a few hours.

A project to update the drains or create a retention pond nearby has been on the city's wish list for nearly a decade, Walter said.

But either solution would cost about $20 million to $25 million, Walter said. "At that kind of price tag, I don't see it (any time soon). The city has formulated a project plan for the next five years, and this project isn't on it."

There are about 100 other projects on that same list, which is examined every November. Walter said they are not prioritized until after they are approved for further consideration.

There were two Tampa homes that had flooding damage Sunday, but the drains in those areas were clogged, Walter said. He advised Tampa residents to check their own drains to make sure no branches, leaves or plastic bags are impeding water flow, in case the next storm is just as heavy.

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