On Monday, July 31, Gulfport started the day with driving rain and wind as Tropical Storm Emily quickly formed and caused “minimal low-level flooding along Shore Boulevard S. but it quickly receded once the tide went out,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly.
By the afternoon, the city “faired very well and everything was getting back to normal operations,” he said. “We closed up our sandbag operation by 3:30 p.m.”
In total, the city received from two to three inches of rain, according to O’Reilly.
St. Petersburg’s Public Works Department spokesperson Bill Logan said no major spills occurred during the storm, according to the Tampa Bay Times. St. Petersburg services Gulfport and surrounding beach cities regarding sewage treatment.
There wasn’t the usual 24 hours or more notice regarding the tropical storm because weather forecasters were caught off guard. On the morning of Sunday, July 30, about 100 miles south of Pensacola, “a swirl of low pressure was evident on radar and satellite imagery,” according to the Weather Channel. During the night, “vigorous and concentrated” thunderstorms developed and increasing winds elevated it to a tropical depression. Within two hours, increasing winds led to it being named the season’s fifth tropical storm. It was the first one this year to affect Gulfport.
Emily made landfall on Anna Maria Island, south of Tampa Bay, at 10:45 a.m. Monday with sustained winds of 45 mph, according to the Weather Channel.
After the short-lived storm, residents in one area of Gulfport experienced street flooding that spanned nearly a two-block historical bricked area on 53rd Street S. between 19th Ave. S. and 21st Ave. S. A portion of 20th Ave. S. just west of 53rd Street S. was also flooded.
“This happens all the time,” said Jennifer Wilson, a homeowner of seven years who lives on 53rd Street S.
The east side of 53rd St. S. “is for people that do not have parking off street or behind their homes,” she said. “Those people have to park in this mess” or pull their cars up into their yard to keep from “having their vehicles sit in the deep water.”
When calling the city to report street flooding, “the most they’ve done so far is put up road blocks,” said Wilson. “It doesn’t stop all the cars that don’t belong on the street. If they want to come and play in their trucks and jeeps, they’re going to. It’s disgusting.”
O’Reilly toured the area on Monday afternoon and said, “They have some drainage issues there because there’s not really a place for the water to drain to. Part of the problem is it is a low area in concert with a brick street and there are not a lot of culverts” for storm drainage. “It basically holds rain water for a period of time.”
Areas like this in the city are known as basins, said O’Reilly. The exact number depends on the amount of rainfall and the time of day a storm occurs in relation to the tide.
“Many avenues are higher than streets so this means that water is held in these areas,” said O’Reilly. “It happens all the time. The biggest issue we have is when drainage is affected by higher tides. Once we reach equilibrium at the end of the road, everything is gravity as it heads south to the bay. If the tide is up, the street water is not moving.”
When Emily came ashore, the tide was up, said O’Reilly.
By Tuesday morning, the street was mostly dry.
Staff from the city’s public works department then investigated the problem on Wilson’s street by “lifting manhole covers checking for debris,” said Tom Nicholls, superintendent of public works. “Depending on what is found, the city may have to devote more resources to that area,” he said. When maintenance requires the removal of some of the historical street bricks, “we will make the repairs needed and restore it by putting them back in place.”
The investigation revealed that one storm drain was clogged and it will be cleaned out, said O’Reilly on Tuesday.
Currently, the city contracts to have a pumping truck assist them with drain clogs during rain events such as heavy thunderstorms, tropical storms and hurricanes. Under current budget consideration is the purchase of a pumping trailer that would allow the city to take care of many of their own needs, said Nicholls.
The city’s staff knows about the ongoing flooding problem on 53rd Street S. because “it is in a basin” and has limited drainage due to a low elevation and a limited number of drains, said O’Reilly. “In that area, we have some real issues.”
Permanently correcting the flooding issue for Wilson and her neighbors would be a “major rehabilitation project with substantial costs between the roadways and the surrounding areas,” said O’Reilly. “It’s something we will definitely go back and look at just like we did with certain areas after Hurricane Hermine” in September 2016 “to see if there is something we can do.”