LAKE CITY, Fla. - As Tropical Storm Debby was dropping record amounts of rain on our area last month, a Lake City woman was shooting home video and snapping photos of the water rising on her family's property.
One of those photos, she emailed to Channel 4's Chief Meteorologist John Gaughan.
One month later, John drove to Lake City to meet this young woman, Loren Sweet, along with the rest of her family. Driving up to the property, John could immediately tell the roadway and the driveway was brand new, but what he saw when he rounded the corner even shocked him.
The Sweet family's home is still partially submerged under rain water and they've lost just about everything.
John asked Loren's father, Paul Sweet what nearby lake overflowed during Debby to cause this.
"There is no lake," replied Paul.
Debby's rains started falling Sunday night, June 24. By Tuesday, the water on Paul's property was rising into the family's home.
"So it was actually moving water then," asked John. "Real Fast. I had never seen that before," replied Paul.
Paul, his wife Amy, his 14-year-old son Hunter and the recent college grad Loren, all escaped with what's important: their lives and their pets. But, when the decision came to leave their home, they were only able to grab a few personal items.
"I think the biggest mistake that we made was that we tried to save everything in the yard. We were focused on that. We never thought that it would get to the house. By the time it got to the house it was almost too late to save much," explained Paul.
By Wednesday night, the water reached the top of their roof. Nearly everything left inside and out was destroyed.
The Sweet family never bought flood insurance. Not because they couldn't pay for it, but because they don't live in a designated flood zone
"When the hurricanes came over in '04 there was some water but this was really a big shock," said Paul.
The family says FEMA has been by to see the damage Debby caused, but with standing water still partially submerging the property, the agency can only survey what's visible above the water.
Inside the home, you can smell the mold as soon as you walk in. Everything appears warped and ruined. Only a few of Hunter's football trophies are salvageable.
Hunter is grateful some of the trophies he won over the past seven years weren't completely destroyed, but he's shaken by the storm.
Hunter recalled, "I seen [the water] come out of the motor home. [My father] woke me up. He told me to start packing my clothes. I started packing and helped get stuff outside. I didn't know what was going to happen."
Hunter also said he is saddened by how much his family did lose and he's worried about how much his parents are struggling now, just to keep a roof over their heads.
The family is living in their motor home. They were able to get it out of the flood waters and move it to higher ground on the family's property, near where Paul's parents live.
When Hunter was asked his one wish he said, "We get another house and we move on and don't have anything else to worry about."
Hunter's older sister Loren is worried too. She's not as concerned about what she lost herself in the floods, like the college diploma she just received. She's more concerned because without flood insurance, her family will not be reimbursed for their destroyed home. If FEMA can help them at all, they may only get money to replace the contents that were lost inside the house. The home itself, still has a mortgage.
"Everyone should get flood insurance," said Loren.
As already mentioned, it was the photograph Loren emailed to John during Channel 4's coverage of Tropical Storm Debby (right), that led John out to Lake City one month later to check on the family.
After meeting Loren for the first time, John asked her what compelled her to send him a picture. She replied, "Because I wanted everyone to see that Lake City has been affected. Also it was 400 homes in Lake City that were flooded."
John asked, "How did it affect you? I can tell that you are upset."
"Yes, in less than 24 hours we lost our home and we never expected [the water] to get that high. It was more shocking than anything else," Loren replied.
"We assumed that it wouldn't get to our house. And in fact, it swallowed the whole house and that's stuff you can't get back," Paul added.
Paul's advice, from a father and husband: First, get flood insurance. And second....
"Have a plan ahead of time. make a plan now with your family in case something might happen. Because when it does happen, you were like we should have done this, we should have done that. Well go ahead and make a plan now because if you think it might happen you have something you can read and you know what to do. It is right in front of you," said Paul.
Paul's wife Amy is very emotional. "It's is very tough...to live in a motor home for a month."
The Sweet family is so thankful to everyone in the Lake City community for coming together to help his family and so many others. Paul said everyone from neighbors to the Columbia County Commissioner came together to help his family and so many others.
For example, Paul said the sporting goods store in town lent his family a motor to put on a boat so they could get back to their property. He said people he didn't even know came by to help.
For more information on finding disaster assistance from FEMA, applying for assistance or checking your application status, go to www.DisasterAssistance.gov or call (800) 621-FEMA (3362). The TTY number is (800) 462-7585 for those who are speech or hearing impaired.
MITIGATION SPECIALISTS ANSWERING QUESTIONS IN NASSAU COUNTY
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and a Nassau County Lowe's are teaming up to provide information and advice on cleaning and rebuilding homes after Tropical Storm Debby.
FEMA mitigation specialists will be at the Lowe's at 474283 E. State Road 200 in Fernandina Beach from Aug. 1 to Aug. 6. They will be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Sunday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 6.
Mitigation specialists can explain disaster-resistant ways to repair and rebuild, offer suggestions on cleaning mold and mildew and can also provide information on flood insurance.
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