ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Anger and sorrow poured out of the Cypress Landing Apartment complex Tuesday, after residents found out they’d be forced to leave their flooded first-floor units by the end of the month.
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For the 200 families affected, it was another setback. First, Hurricane Ian flooded homes many of them had lived in for years. They lost their cars, possessions and power, and would now have to start over entirely.
“We all thought we were going to die, but thank you, God, we’re here,” Miriam Alecia said. “Now is the worst. Now is to survive one day at a time.”
Across flooded areas in Central Florida, that story is likely to play out over and over. Under state law, landlords are required to terminate leases of uninhabitable units and return the security deposit, but that’s all. Tenants may not have much else to help them regain their footing. Insurance companies typically don’t cover flooding in rental units, even flooding caused by a hurricane.
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Commissioner Mayra Uribe and Congressman Darren Soto’s office were out at Cypress Landing Tuesday, organizing food through the Salvation Army and handing out FEMA information fliers. The commissioner was angered by the fact that the landlord, who was unable to be reached for comment Tuesday, was unwilling to do more than the legal minimum and wasn’t making themselves available to tenants.
“We just want what’s right for this community to happen to this community,” Uribe said. “We cannot allow hundreds and more hundreds of people to lose their livelihood.”
The county itself, however, appeared to have been caught flat-footed by the newly forming consequences of Ian’s aftermath. When asked if a shelter was available so people didn’t have to live in smelly, moldy apartments, the commissioner said no community centers were available within the assigned school range. When she was asked if buses could be brought in to transport kids and families from a shelter to their properties, she said officials were looking into the possibility.
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She said her office was contacted that morning by the tenants, who in turn said the help she provided was the first they’d received since the storm hit.
Should Cypress Landing be the first of many buildings in this situation, thousands of families could be potentially placed into a similar situation, without any temporary safety net to fall back on.
“We didn’t expect this much flooding,” Uribe said, when asked what contingency plans the county had made in case major flooding like this happened. “I don’t think the county was prepared adequately.”
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It’s unclear if officials are actively preparing for the housing emergency this flood may cause. Officials facing similar disasters in other areas have scouted spaces in advance for temporary shelters near low-lying communities, or empty lots on higher ground that can house tent cities in the event a major flood or some other disaster.
For residents without clean water, trucks were called in to offer a place to wash clothes and shower. Regular communication was established between government leaders, aid workers and Chambers of Commerce leaders who had connections to businesses that were able to assist.
It wasn’t just the county that faced difficulties. Uribe said FEMA officials who visited the complex spoke only English, while the majority of the complex’s tenants primarily spoke Spanish.
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Those who were able to translate said the agents provided unhelpful advice, such as sleeping on box springs if mattresses were wet.
“How do we bathe? How did we shower? How do we live?” Deonedra Anderson asked. “How do we survive in these conditions instead of just kicking us out? Help us.”
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