NewsPolk County


Dorian brings back painful memories for Puerto Ricans now living in Florida

Posted at 8:29 PM, Aug 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-28 12:58:54-04

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Dorian’s path through the islands and toward Florida is a familiar one. It’s hard to forget the devastation hurricanes Irma and Maria had on thousands of people’s lives just two short years ago.

For some Tampa Bay area residents, they’re still living the nightmare.

“Maria came and she took everything from us so we had to start over,” Kathia Torres Viera said.

She had just given birth to her baby boy, Cedric II, when Hurricane Maria, or "the monster," as she called it when it rolled through Puerto Rico.

Since then the comedian, model and new mother has rebuilt her life in Lakeland, Florida with her husband Cedric. When ABC Action News asked how she’s handling the recovery two years later, Kathia gave thanks to the hurricane.

“She took our home but she gave us a new one,” Kathia said.

Kathia calls her family a group of "survivors."

But with news of yet another storm on the same path, it’s not as easy of a question to answer for her. With terrible memories of the last storm fresh in her mind and her family and friends still living in Puerto Rico, Kathia says she’s worried.

“Not everyone has secure home to actually go through,” she said.

From the pictures Kathia sent to ABC Action News, the wrath of Maria is evident.

Among the rubble is Kathia’s home which was destroyed in the 2017 storm. When we asked if she felt safe now that she is in Central Florida, Kathia said no and that she may never feel safe again.

“It’s been really really tough,” she said.

Luck would have it though that Kathia’s mother had a trip scheduled to visit family outside of Puerto Rico and will be missing Dorian all together. Kathia says she’s thankful for that, even though many family members are still on the island.

ABC Action News checked in with Polk County Emergency Management ahead of Dorian to see if operations are in order.

Paul Womble tells us within 24 hours, they anticipate meeting with partnering agencies to see what steps need to be taken next.

“Dorian is a threat to Florida,” Womble said.

Whether it’s a rain event or something stronger, the EOC is ready to activate if and when needed.

Polk County is also implementing new strategies and learning from the last hurricane. Womble tells ABC Action News Hurricane Irma is the new benchmark, highlighting concerns about staffing and special needs sheltering numbers.

According to Womble in 2004 when Florida saw back to back hurricane, about 750 special needs residents sheltered in Polk County. But in 2017, when Hurricane Irma came through, the number doubled to 1,369 people with special needs who were seeking shelter.

“We needed more staff, we needed additional staff those staff were activated longer. So that’s the new benchmark so we have spent a lot of time since irma, we had started before irma but irma really highlighted the fact, how big our special needs program in polk county is,” Womble said.

For now, the team is in a wait-and-see mode, the same way Kathia is dealing with news of Dorian.

“It’s nature, you can’t control that nobody can,” she said.

Polk County has initiated it’s sandbag operation ahead of the storm.

Sandbag fill sites will open Wednesday for Polk County residents. Beginning at 7 a.m., the following locations will provide sandbags, but residents must bring their own shovels.

Sites will remain open from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. On Monday, only the Mulberry, Lakeland, Auburndale and Dundee sites will be open. However, this could change depending on the storm’s track and intensity.

Sandbag fill site locations are:

  • Mulberry – 900 NE 5th St., Mulberry, (863) 519-4734
  • Lakeland – 8970 N. Campbell Road, Lakeland (863) 815-6701         
  • Fort Meade – 1061 NE 9th St., Fort Meade (863) 285-6588
  • Frostproof – 350 County Road 630A, Frostproof (863) 635-7879
  • Auburndale – 1701 Holt Road, Auburndale (863) 965-5524
  • Dundee – 805 Dr. Martin Luther King St. SW, Dundee, (863) 421-3367

Residents living in flood prone areas are encouraged to sandbag their homes. To protect against water damage, follow these simple sandbagging techniques in areas where water can enter a structure:
1.    If not working on concrete, a small ditch should be dug just deep enough to go below ground level. The ditch should be back far enough from the entrance to allow room to place optional submersible (sump) pumps into the protected area. The edge of the visqueen should be placed in the ditch as a bottom layer.
2.    Place the first row of sandbags in ditch, fold visqueen over the top of first row, place a second row of bags on top, fold visqueen back over, place a third row of bags on top, and so on. This creates an "S" pattern with the visqueen.
3.    Depending on the size of the barrier, one or more submersible (sump) pumps should be utilized. The barrier will not completely stop water from entering the protected area. However, with the proper placement of bags, visqueen and sump pumps, water, in most cases, can be removed quickly.