ST. PETERSBURG If his house hadn’t been demolished, Gary Grudzinskas would have enjoyed watching workers pour gallons of concrete onto his floor. It looked like a gray pool of soft ice cream, sticking to the corners of her Shore Acres bedroom, which seven weeks ago had 4 inches of water in it.
Interesting, isn’t it? said Grudzinskas, 60, a technical writer who has been living in a rental in the city with her three teenagers since Hurricane Idalia tore through her neighborhood on the morning of Aug. 30. The Category 4 storm spared most of Tampa Bay, but appeared to target Shore Acres and adjacent Riviera Bay.
According to the assessment of St. Petersburg Municipality, it was found that Of the 1,466 homes around town that were damaged by the storm that day, 1,206 of those homes were in Shore Acres, a staggering 82% of the flood damage in just one area. A city release said nearly half of all homes in the neighborhood sustained some degree of damage.
The fires, floods and damage were intense, but the many touching moments of neighbors helping neighbors is one of the reasons the Grudzinskas are rebuilding rather than leaving their home of 29 years.
Someone suggested me to bring a refrigerator. A complete stranger, Grudzinskas said. We had food trucks handing out food, restaurants handing out food. We received gift card donations to get the family out. People just show up and help each other.
Carolyn Ganley, a fifth-grade teacher at Largos Plato Academy, lives alone with her two dogs and had to return to work two days after flooding engulfed her recently renovated Shore Acres home. She said the district’s lively Facebook page has been a lifeline.
Neighbors prepared for me. A woman made me this big Filipino meal, Ganley said. You can go there and ask for anything and complete strangers will show up. They moved my boxes and helped me in the yard. People just show up.
What didn’t appear were the permits needed to replace structural damage, such as floors and walls, until the city expedited them for flooded neighborhoods. And some banks have been slow to approve payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to homeowners to spend on repairs, surprising many.
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The City of St. Petersburg is committed to accelerating rebuilding and recovery by expediting the permitting process in hopes of helping affected individuals return to their homes as soon as possible, said James Corbett, City Development Administrator. While major renovations are underway, he said the city has waived the rules for recreational vehicles and trailers on site. And for six months, code enforcement will suspend the issuance of citations.
At the same time, it was a huge learning curve that came with the bureaucratic process of working with FEMA, said Kevin Batdorf, president of the Shore Acres Civic Association.
The process for getting a grant from FEMA to elevate your home, he said, is byzantine. Homeowner cannot apply directly. The application must be from the city, which sends it to the state, which then sends it to FEMA. If FEMA approves the grant, the money goes first to the state, then to the city, and finally to the homeowner.
You cannot design a more complex system. It takes three to five years to get that grant, Batdorf said.
In the weeks since the storm, Babycycle has distributed free wipes and hygiene products. Fourth Street Pizza made several appearances to hand out free food, as did upscale restaurant Il Ritorno. The city offered free camping for two weekends so parents could drop off their children while they worked on their homes. Food trucks FoCheezy and Taco Cartel showed up to serve lunch.
The Shore Acres Relief Fund has been started and the Shore Acres Strong logo featured on shirts, mugs and bags at crafty-dos-co.square.site goes towards the fund. It has raised about $7,500 so far, a fraction of what it needs. But it will go toward a partnership with Riviera United Methodist Church and Pineapple Projects to help neighbors deliver lost items like furniture, Batdorf said.
Meanwhile, The Ale and the Witch in downtown St. Petersburg worked with Cycle Brewing to brew a beer called Rising Waters IPA, with proceeds going to the foundation. And Shore Acres kids will have a special Halloween night at Arrowhead Park because many neighbors won’t be handing out candy at their homes, Batdorf said.
Nobody on the other side of the bridge knows anything about what happened here, Batdorf said. Debris was picked up from front lawns so anyone wouldn’t see the houses gutted behind those doors. Life seems normal if you’re just driving by.
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