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Tampa has invested $39 million to fight flooding on an unfinished project. And she's not ready for Ian


The city is in the early stages of a project that began late last year to improve drainage and reduce flooding. The works have only advanced 30%.

By Melissa


Tampa has been making major infrastructure improvements to protect the vulnerable city from flooding, but as Hurricane Ian approaches Florida's west coast, the project is still years away from completion.

The city is in the early stages of a $39 million project to improve drainage and reduce flooding in the Seminole Heights neighborhood.

Construction is only 30% advanced, according to Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

[Ian can reach Florida with category 4. The worst will be a storm surge of up to 12 feet]

The three-year project to build a major stormwater conveyance system began late last year.

It was underway before Ian threatened to undo their progress this week with forecast winds of more than 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour), prolonged storm surges of up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) in some areas, strong rain and possible tornadoes.

“There is still a significant amount of work left.

And without that work completed, the exacerbation of flooding and heavy rains is potentially catastrophic,” Sullivan explained.

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The Tampa Bay area is especially vulnerable to storm surges due to its low-lying geography, according to state climatologist David Zierden and Dennis Smith, an urban planner and professor in the Florida State University Department of City and Regional Planning. .

In fact, the World Bank ranked Tampa as one of the world's top 10 coastal cities at highest risk of damaging flooding in 2013.

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That greatly threatens roads and waterfront development, according to Smith, adding that unlike other parts of Florida, such as Miami, storm surges from the Tampa Bay area can go much farther into the inside.

"The potential flood zone for a storm of the same intensity points to being greater in the Tampa Bay area," he said.

This is a major concern as Ian, which strengthened to a Category 4 storm overnight - after making landfall in western Cuba on Tuesday - is expected to hit Tampa Bay directly on Wednesday, according to the US authorities.

The region hasn't been hit by a major hurricane since 1921, when an unnamed Category 3 storm -- according to the National Weather Service's estimate -- caused at least eight deaths and caused $5 million in damage.

It was the most destructive hurricane in the area since 1848.

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Since 1921, the region's population has grown from about 400,000 to 3.8 million, and the number of buildings has tripled or quadrupled, according to Sullivan.

"The impact on the population is going to be much more significant," he warned.

In the lower coastal area is also St. Petersburg, which is on a large peninsula separated from the mainland by Tampa Bay.

Three major bridges that provide access between the area's two most populous cities are also at risk of heavy storm surge, according to Sullivan.

A worker boards up a restaurant ahead of Hurricane Ian's arrival in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“The approaches to all our bridges are generally at sea level.

So any storm surge would make access to all three bridges almost impossible,” he explained.

Tampa pledged to improve essential infrastructure after Tropical Storm Irma knocked out power to pumping stations for a week in 2017, but the storm ultimately left the area largely unscathed.

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In July, the city invested in 64 portable generators and has 75,000 gallons of fuel in storage, which can last up to five days if there is a power outage at a wastewater treatment plant.

The city also recently equipped its emergency response teams with drones and upgraded the communications system public safety personnel use after the storm.  

Most significantly, last fall Tampa began to improve drainage problems by widening roads and making pipes bigger.

But Sullivan indicated that his current drainage structures will not be able to cope with the sudden and intense rains that are coming.

"We've gotten a little bit ahead of ourselves," he said, "but frankly, I don't think anyone can be prepared for a Category 3 hurricane to hit our region directly."

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Once the project is complete, the city will be able to manage stormwater and mitigate flooding "much, much better," said Vik Bhide, Tampa's director of mobility, who oversees stormwater and transportation for the city.

Bhide said the city has ensured the existing stormwater system, including through the work zone, "will work as designed."

Erwin Martínez, Tatiana Rodríguez and Alfonso Rojas fill sandbags ahead of Hurricane Ian, on September 27, 2022, on a beach near Tampa, Florida.Win McNamee / Getty Images

"Ideally, we would have wanted to have this project to deal with situations like Hurricane Ian," he said.

“Hope for the best, but we are relatively well prepared, as prepared as you can be with this work zone,” he added.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency and evacuations have been ordered for some 2.5 million residents from Pinellas County to the Fort Myers area.

[This is how Hurricane Ian's wingspan is seen from the International Space Station]

Some parts of the state can be without power for anywhere from three days to a week, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie warned at a news conference Tuesday morning.

"The Tampa Bay area hasn't seen this type of storm in decades, if not 100 years," said Rick Davis, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Tampa.

“We are in the high to extreme category for all the threats that hurricanes can have,” Davis said.

Tampa Bay is in a "favorable zone" to avoid major hurricanes, according to Davis.

When a storm forms in the Atlantic and the steering currents are weak, it will often turn to hit the east coast of Florida or miss the state entirely.

And if the steering current is strong the systems often hit Texas or the Gulf of Mexico.

But not this week.

"We're right in the middle of the stream," Davis said.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2022-09-28

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