Standing water remains in many Putnam County homes days after Irma

Welaka residents exhausted as floodwaters have yet to recede

PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. – After Hurricane Irma, storm waters still had not completely receded Friday for many people living in Putnam County. 

Neighborhoods along the St. Johns River were still undrivable and numerous home still had standing water inside.

The three areas of Putnam County still reeling the most are the town of Welaka, homes along Dunns Creek at U.S. 17 and Federal Point just west of Hastings -- where life hasn't totally resumed and many are still stuck in the muck.

Putnam County Emergency Management said its damage assessment teams continue to survey the county, but, as of Thursday, preliminary estimates show: 242 were affected, 198 suffered minor damage, 120 sustained major damage, 14 structures were destroyed and 85 were inaccessible. 

In one Welaka neighborhood, water was still knee-deep and higher in some places. Residents are expected to have standing water for up to another week. 

Wes Reith's home along the river remained flooded days after Irma.

"I'm exhausted. I'm disappointed. I'm a little bit upset," Reith said. "But I chose to live here. If I had known this, I probably wouldn't have bought the place. All I can do is do the best I can do."

Reith's entire neighborhood in Welaka suffered unprecedented flooding.

"Believe it or not, we have electricity," he said. "There's other parts of Welaka and Satsuma that are on high ground that don't."

Reith tol News4Jax he assumes turning the electricity back on is safe because it was also restored during minor flooding from Hurricane Matthew last year. 

It's something Richard and Kay Faulkner said they would prefer to what they have now, which is an alligator in the backyard. 

The couple said they don't have power and risked ruining their SUV to find air conditioning because the generator they bought for the storm was also ruined. 

"We're exhausted and hot," Richard Faulkner said. "I had a generator that I bought last year and it did fine. So I put it up high in my shop and three-quarters of that generator was under water."

Welaka locals said they knew riverfront living comes with risks, but they never knew it meant literally living in the river. Residents said they had flooding after back-to-back storms in 2004, but it wasn't to this level. 

"We've lived out here 18 years, been in this house 10," said Dianne Pittman, who lives along the river. "(It was build in '89, never had water in it until now.

As of Friday, Pittman's neighborhood remained flooded, and she's not sure when it will recede. 

"Water comes up in this area. That's part of living in this area. We get it once in a blue moon -- we've been here 18 years. (This is the) first time we had water in the house," she said. "This is the highest it's been in this area ever. So Irma did a job on us."

Across the St. Johns River from Welaka, it was still a mud-caked mess with river water still blocking many roads on Friday. Up the river in Satsuma, the water hit certain areas it never had before, and clean up around the river will take awhile.

About a mile north from Pittman's home is Paul Rich’s Satsuma home, which is built up high. It was just high enough to survive what Irma threw at him.

"It got up to where the line is -- about 20-22 inches," he said. "We just had (a hurricane) last year, so we're used to it. 

As of Friday afternoon, about 15,000 customers in Putnam County were without power. Emergency management officials said damage assessment continued Friday.

About the Author:

Scott is a multi-Emmy Award Winning Anchor and Reporter, who also hosts the “Going Ringside With The Local Station” Podcast. Scott has been a journalist for 25 years, covering stories including six presidential elections, multiple space shuttle launches and dozens of high-profile murder trials.