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Hurricane Ian shelters remain open in Sarasota County as rivers flood homes

aerial shot of flooded neighborhood
Sarasota County Government
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Rainfall from Hurricane Ian poured into waterways that serve as tributaries to the Myakka River, causing it to rise and flood many of North Port's neighborhoods and roadways.

On Sunday, Governor Ron DeSantis said the city of North Port experienced the worst flooding in the state.

Rain from Hurricane Ian poured into the Myakka River last week, flooding homes and neighborhoods and trapping hundreds of people in south Sarasota County.

Many have been rescued by air boats and canoes. Others who fled before the storm made landfall were unable to return home. Evacuated residents are finding shelter at Venice High School.

Cynthia Royds and her husband John live in an area of North Port where Sarasota and Charlotte counties meet.

The night Hurricane Ian came through, the wind was howling outside their home near the Cocoplum Waterway, a 13-mile stream located in the Myakka River Watershed.

"And my husband and I for four hours stood out in our garage holding the door from blowing in so that our house would be saved,” she said through tears.

It was a long night. But by morning, the couple saw that their home was mostly fine.

Looking out a window, they saw a few stucco roof tiles on the front lawn and a small tree collapsed near-- but not on-- their screened lanai.

The view of their street however was more worrisome with water creeping up to their driveway.

There are man-made canals all throughout North Port, and a lot of other towns and that's one of the issues with flooding here,” she said. “We only live about 2 or 3 blocks from a canal, so, I said c'mon we're leaving.”

Woman in blue shirt and man in tan shirt sit at green picnic table with small dog
Cathy Carter
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Cynthia and John Royds and their dog Darla evacuated to a shelter at Venice High School after their neighborhood in North Port flooded.

The Royds evacuated to Venice High School which is now a temporary shelter for people impacted by the widespread flooding in south Sarasota County.

For now, the Royds have somewhere to sleep, plenty to eat and cell phone service so they can finally call their kids in New Jersey.

But John Royds worries about what they will find when it's safe for them to go home.

Longtime residents know North Port often floods after storms, once rainwater drains from the center of the state down waterways and into Sarasota County.

"It’s just very emotionally draining to see what you have possibly go down the tubes,” he said. “And the thought of having to start all over again at 75 years old is just devastating."

The couple’s anxiety increased with news of the flooding and closure of I-75 over the weekend and many other roads remain closed.

Cynthia Royds says many of the evacuated don't feel like they were a priority.

"Nobody showed up,” she said. “Nobody even rode down the street to check on us. So, you know, you kind of felt alone. And I still feel alone until I got here and everybody was so welcoming.”

North Port is the largest area of Sarasota County overwhelmed with flooding but many throughout the county had to deal with rising water.

Angela Coffin lives at Ramblers Rest RV Resort located along the Myakka River in Venice.

Like the Royds she and her husband also thought they could ride out the hurricane at home. But by nightfall, winds were starting to pick up.

"And it started to rain forcefully and we got so scared, then we just decided we're not going to make it out of here alive. If we had not got out when we got out, I don't know what would have happened."

Coffin, her husband, along with their cat Bailey and dog Gracie drove to a friend's house. They left clenching pet carriers, trudging against the wind and pelting rain.

When they returned the next day, they had to wade through waist-deep water from the Myakka River in order to reach their mobile home. The river is known for having an abundance of alligators and snakes.

"It was a terrible experience. Gators were on the loose everywhere. I saw one probably no more than 20 feet from me. And then I saw the water moccasins go by, and I just got out."

The couple quickly abandoned their plan and headed back to higher ground.

A cat in a pet carrter with food bowls in foreground
Cathy Carter
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Angela Coffin's cat Bailey is one of many pets sheltering with their owners at Venice High School

Like the Royds and many others at the shelter, Coffin isn't sure what she will find when she is finally able to return to the RV Park.

She says she and her husband already lost one home to a hurricane, when Hugo hit South Carolina back in 1989. Even so, she says she's grateful.

"All the furniture and stuff like that, will be replaceable,” she said. “I am so happy to have my animals safe, to have my husband safe. To be here."

She didn’t expect to end up in a shelter after making it safely through the hurricane. But the flooding days after the storm caught many residents by surprise.

Even so, she and others at the Venice shelter are thankful they were not in Ian’s direct path.

Click here for official storm recovery information for Sarasota County.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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