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The Villages
Friday, December 2, 2022

Historic Side residents want to know ‘Where was The Villages during Hurricane Irma?’

The damage Hurricane Irma inflicted on the Historic Side of The Villages was the topic of Monday’s monthly Neighbor to Neighbor meeting at Paradise Recreation Center.

Lake County Commissioner Josh Blake and Lake County Emergency Management Manager Tommy Carpenter fielded questions and comments from Villages residents.

Most questions centered on the perceived lack of communication, shelters and the lack of response by The Villages to those in need in the flooded areas on the Historic Side.

Near the end of the meeting, Villages District Manager Janet Tutt got up to address the crowd as to how residents were notified that the Paradise Center was going to open as a refuge center during the hurricane.

Nick Paghidas, a resident of the Historic Side, checked into the emergency shelter set up at Paradise Recreation Center.

The pet-friendly shelter at Villages Elementary of Lady Lake filled up quickly as Irma approached in September. Carpenter noted that the county had availability at Leesburg High School. An audience member pointed out that some Villages residents’ only means of transportation is a golf cart. Carpenter said anyone can get on the transportation list by calling (352) 343-9420. Lake County officials transported 452 people to shelters. 

Much of the meeting centered on the lack of communication.

Carpenter said that all the county’s communications regarding shelter and storm updates were sent to newspapers, television stations and radio stations. An audience member said that AM-640 WVLG may have received the information, but did not broadcast it. 

Susan Williams, part of the Facebook group The Villages Friendly Folks, along with six other women from that group drove around the Historic Side for five days after the hurricane delivering water, ice and food.

Villages Friendly Folks organized supplies for victims of Hurricane Irma on the Historic Side.

“People kept telling us we were the first people that had checked on them,” said Williams. “It was quite an experience, some of the elderly came to the door and they were crying.”

She came to Monday’s meeting and wanted to learn more about the help and services available for these people. She and her group intend to help the next time there is a similar situation even though they received a letter from The Villages telling them they had not followed the rules and proper protocol.

Villager Richard St. Amant got up and told the story of his house being flooded.

Richard St. Amant

He lost four rooms, but was able to stay in his home.

“We had a good response from FEMA and CERT,” said St. Amant, “I was disappointed in no response from The Villages. The first time I heard from The Villages was when they delivered a violation notice because I was using a window air conditioning unit.”

He blamed trolls for reporting the window unit to Community Standards.

Flooding was common on the Historic Side in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

He said his central air conditioning unit was flooded and inoperable.

Lady Lake Mayor Jim Richards attended the meeting in an unofficial capacity as a resident of the Historic Side,

During a discussion about golf carts being temporarily allowed to cross U.S. Hwy. 27/441, Mayor Richards clarified that the decision to allow golf carts to cross the roadway came from the Florida Department of Transportation. The action was taken after the Historic Side entrance to the golf cart bridge flooded.

Amid confusion as to how residents were informed that Paradise Recreation Center would be open as a refuge in the storm, Tutt addressed the group.

A golf cart attempts to navigate the flood waters in the days after Hurricane Irma.

“Opening Paradise was a District management decision; The Villages were not involved,” said Tutt.

She has a new assistant looking at how to mitigate flooding in the future. Asked by an audience member if residents would have the opportunity to meet with The Villages management as they had with Lake County, Tutt responded that residents had been asked to put their thoughts in writing and staff is currently sorting through the 300 responses.

“We are sorting it, looking at the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Tutt. She said that with over 120,000 people living in The Villages the best way to get a one-on-one response was to come to the Welcome Wednesday meetings.

“We will stay all day until all the questions are answered,” she said.

   

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