'This is a nightmare': Flooding in Fort Lauderdale brings frustration, homelessness
In the days after the record floods hit Fort Lauderdale, the neighborhood of Edgewood was a scene of devastation, with abandoned cars thrown about the road and distraught residents wading through water to find basic provisions and to check on their homes. Photographer Anastasia Samoylova and WLRN’s Daniel Rivero were there.
In Edgewood, the luckiest of residents mopped their floors and tossed out buckets of the last remaining water in their homes — for many, the water was still inches high, even as the sun came out.
“Welcome to South Florida,” said Steve Allen, a resident of the neighborhood since the 1960s. “You’re the first person to even ask us if we need anything. The neighbors from round the corner came by in a big airboat buggy, picking people up and taking them out of the water. But that’s just about it – nobody else has even stopped.”
WLRN talked to Allen on Saturday, three days after the initial flooding. The water was still shin high in his front yard, and inches deep in his home.
Allen’s cat Ziggy was on the roof of a neighbor’s home, where he had been posted for days after the flooding started, meowing as Allen spoke.
“Even these poor animals – they don’t know what to do with the water. He’s got a bowl up there." Speaking of his neighbor, he added, "All her fish in her aquarium died, you know."
Allen is a U.S. Army veteran of low, fixed income, unable to afford even a cell phone, he told WLRN. He said he doesn’t know what he will do with his home in the long term, and for the time being he and his wife were simply trying to salvage what they could salvage from inside the home.
Across the street another cat is on the rooftop. Thomas and Marjorie Banks stayed put during and after the flood to take care of their animals.
“I rescue, and you know how that goes. Crazy cat ladies!” said Marjorie. “We both are sleeping in wet beds. I’ve used all my linen, trying to keep that, but they get damp. So basically last night I didn’t sleep.”
Marjorie was slumped over in her yellow pickup truck, which was high enough to escape destruction from the waters. Elsewhere, abandoned cars lined the flooded street. Garage doors were blown open by cars that were lifted by the flood waters and thrust into the structure.
“I don’t have words. I don’t know what to say. I just came here to see if at least I can save something, but as you can see, no. Everything is destroyed."Edgewood resident Jamilette Gonzalez
Marjorie said she had to jump out of the window to save her pitbull from the backyard, since flood water pressure kept the door shut.
“When I secured myself to jump down, water was over my boobs quite frankly. So that’s how deep it was in our backyard,” she said.
One resident told WLRN that his dog died in the flood.
A few doors down, Tara Hardy's chickens survived the flood by standing on a wood post in their coop. Returning home to check on everything, she opened all the doors of the home and swept out remaining puddles.
Hardy had fled with her family once water started to come into the house and she started to smell fuel in the water. Even days later, streaks of rainbow colored fuel could be seen in the flooded street.
"There wasn't a dry spot in the house to stand and my daughter started sobbing. She's six. So I made the decision that before the water got any higher we had to get out," she told WLRN.
Her mother-in-law stayed in the home, but the water got so high Hardy's husband had to go back and evacuate his mother in a canoe, she said.
Baseless rumors swirled about an elderly couple that died, about another man who got electrocuted. There was no proof these things happened, but the rumors spread by word of mouth, the kind of thing that happens in a place temporarily cut off from the rest of the world.
Resident Jody Berman walked out of a still-flooded house with a piece of art over her head, a classical Indian painting featuring Hindu goddesses.
“It’s my grandmother’s. I’m trying to keep anything that I can, which is not a lot. But everything, like literally everything is destroyed in my house,” said Berman. “It’s just an heirloom, it’s just a family heirloom.”
Berman also hauled a few bags to bring to a friend’s home, where she will stay for the foreseeable future. Contractors prowled up and down the street in high trucks, but from what Berman said, there was no semblance of a government response from any level of government.
“Many parts of Fort Lauderdale were destroyed. Edgewood – everything that belongs to everyone, their home and everything in it was destroyed, and yet there’s a concert going on,” she said, referring to the annual Tortuga Music Festival that took place last weekend.
“It’s just happening because of tourism and nobody actually cares about the people that live here. The people that live here and work here and have families — and there are families that are homeless right now in the shopping plaza across the street, and dogs who drowned and nobody cares,” she said.
Boots on the ground
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told WLRN he understands residents are frustrated, but that the city has had “boots on the ground” as soon as it could.
The city estimates 900 residents were rescued from flood waters during the peak of the storm. The city has also opened two shelters for displaced residents, and is moving them to “alternatives” to shelters as soon as it can.
The Tortuga Music Festival on Fort Lauderdale Beach was temporarily evacuated after local officials issued an emergency weather alert. About 60,000 people attended the concert.
“A lot of these folks did not have flood insurance, so I don’t know what’s going to happen to them, to be honest.”Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis
On the criticism that the city should have shut down the festival while residents still had water in their homes, Trantalis said: “You can’t shut down a Tortuga Festival. The area where it took place was not affected by the floods, and the city would have been sued for millions of dollars if it took that route.”
The state of Florida has deployed pumps and vacuums to Edgewood and other neighborhoods to bring and keep the water levels down. Federal agents with FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency — are on the scene doing damage assessments, trying to figure out if federal aid might be needed.
“People need to realize that the city itself is essentially homeless,” said Trantalis. “City Hall is not a safe building, you can’t use it right now.”
But the mayor said his concern remains with residents who saw their family homes and possessions destroyed in an instant.
“A lot of these folks did not have flood insurance, so I don’t know what’s going to happen to them, to be honest,” said Trantalis.
'Everything is destroyed'
When the storm hit, Jamilette Gonzalez was in Puerto Rico for her grandmother’s funeral. She saw the flooding on the news, but had not seen it with her own eyes until catching the flight back home.
She walked through thigh high water with her yorkie Coco in her hands. The home had already flooded once since she bought it in 2020, she said, but her flood insurance policy helped her repair and rebuild the home.
“It’s terrible,” said Gonzalez.
The inside of her home was still covered in shin-high water. A brand new freezer was tossed on the side, damaged or likely broken by the flood. As she opened the kitchen door, the full scale of the catastrophe hit her.
“Oh my God,” she whispered to herself. “Ay dios.”
“I cannot tell you what I feel right now. This is a nightmare. It is. Now I don’t have nothing. [Neither do} my kids – as you can see. Look, that’s their room,” she said.
Inside the room, mud and sediment covered two tiny mattresses. The act of walking through the home left footprints of sediment on the tile floor. The walls were noticeably inflated after soaking up flood waters.
“The walls are destroyed. I don’t have words. I don’t know what to say. I just came here to see if at least I can save something, but as you can see, no. Everything is destroyed,” said Gonzalez.
In the days since, the flood waters have receded, but the beds, the couch, the walls — they’re wet and soggy, unfit for habitation.
Gonzalez, her husband and two children are now staying with her mother-in-law at an apartment elsewhere in Fort Lauderdale. Much to her relief, the apartment is on the second floor.