“It is an unprecedented incident,” said Daniel Hahn, Emergency Operations Center plans chief, “we had 17 to 20 inches of rain within a 24 hour period.” Hahn said the event surpasses the 100 year rain event marker. County code builds holding ponds for 12 inch rain events. “It’s a 200 year rain event,” said Hahn. Santa Rosa County residents and city officials are beginning the long and costly process of assessing damages and cleaning up after being blindsided by the heaviest rain storm in an age. According to the National Weather Service in Mobile, SRC received 26 inches of rain within 30 hours. “Add this amount of rain to what we’ve already received this month, and it’s a mess,” said Hahn. He said if you take the amount of rain and spread it over the course of a year, you have a typical year. It’s really all about perspective.
Throughout Tuesday night, the county closed roads while neighborhoods were flooded, as fast moving water stranding people inside their homes. Some drivers needed help getting out of their cars after flash flooding trapped them in their vehicles.
Coy and Joann Harris on Garcon Point Road were fortunate, saying the water stopped before getting into their house. Coy paddled from his backyard to his front yard in a kayak. He said his entire garden was lost under water.
Robin Morris, John Hamm Road, East Milton was stuck in her home from the amount of water standing in her neighborhood. Her road was inaccessible from State Road 87. A back road leading to Morris' home led to a flooded Traci Road with water standing almost knee-high at the intersection of Traci Road and Kim Road.
Pace saw damage as well. Suzie Joseph found a few of her Koi fish from her backyard pond flopping about several yards from the pond near a fence. She said her husband netted them and dumped them back into now cloudy water. She said the goldfish in the smaller front pond disappeared. Joseph said she was lucky to have flood insurance; water in a lower part of her living room rose to 2.5 inches.
John and Joanne Gray of Naples, Florida were rescued from a campground and brought to the Milton Community Center (MCC) emergency shelter. They were driving their camper, on their way to their grandson’s wedding in Texas when they decided to stop at the KOA campground on Highway 87 to wait out the storm. Unfortunately, the storm caught up with them. “We stayed two nights,” said Joanne. She said water was waist deep outside the camper when they called 911. “The KOA director brought a truck and got us to the shelter. Our car was under water,” she said. John said they’ve camped for years and had never had a situation like this happen before.
Michelle Walton and her niece Krystal Pinkerton, Garcon Point, were rescued by Bagdad Fire Department and taken to MCC shelter. Michelle said when they called 911 they were told to stack couches to keep out of the rushing water, invading their home. “It was up to our knees,” said Krystal. “Outside the water was at least 5 foot deep,” she said. Both Michelle and Krystal didn’t know how long they would stay in the shelter as their family members all live in Pensacola and their relatives reported damage of their own.
One rescued woman named Fran wanted to tell her story. Fran said she lives about a mile away from the community center but she lives alone as she is an elderly widow. Fran said in all of her years of living in Santa Rosa County, even the hurricanes, she had never experienced anything like she did Tuesday night. She called 911 and was rescued by Skyline Fire Department. She said Chief Tim Diamond was very kind and helpful as he helped her into a boat to retrieve her from her home.
“I’m a widow of over 30 years,” she said, “I’ve always been able to take care of myself. This was scary. I don’t know what I’ll go back to.”
Chad Black, another Pace resident on Old Guernsey Road, said, "Everything that mattered got out, which is my family." Black said he's lived at his house for 15 years this July and it has never flooded like this. The storm, he said, destroyed a berm along a creek behind his house and by 10:30 p.m. water got so high every time he opened the door, water rushed into his house. Moving the most important belongings, his family, and pets in his van he sloshed through knee-high water. Black also had to protect a child his family is caring for as part of the Safe Families program, which allows volunteers to temporarily care for children whose parents are in crisis. He took an external hard drive containing family pictures and his children, he said, quickly reevaluated what's important. Black said they left things behind they didn't think they would. He didn't have flood insurance, he said, and as they stayed at his mother's house; his wife and four girls shed a few tears, not knowing in what condition they would find the house in the morning.
Black said at 7 a.m. he and a friend examined his home and assessed the damage. "The water only got a few inches up the skirt of the furniture," Black said. "It didn't get high enough to get into the electrical sockets." In his backyard, Black said, "I opened the shed and the floor wasn't even wet. The water floated the shed a bit; moved it away from the anchor. Everything inside was dry." He also said, "The water did some trench digging, but it didn't hurt the foundation."
Black said, "I'm grateful and thankful to the Lord. I'm overwhelmed with love and support from neighbors and my church family, non-stop people helping." Black said the water broke down his fence in places and washed away some of his driveway, but he also said, "I feel we're billionaires in relationship. That's way more valuable than anything. I'm overwhelmed by God's goodness. This is all temporary."