Pond water floods apartments
After downpours, water from a retention pond severely damages at least six homes at the Royal Breeze apartments.
By ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 20, 2003


Water always finds the path of least resistance.

That's what happened Tuesday when an above-ground retention pond found a way underneath a 4-foot concrete barrier, across a league-sized soccer field, through a row of first-floor apartments, across an apartment community street and finally ending just feet away from the front door of the clubhouse at the Royal Breeze apartments near Gulf to Bay Boulevard and U.S. 19.

"The property was under water," said Cindy Walters, who works for Miles Property, the folks who own the apartment complex at 21227 U.S. 19 N. "The property next door to us has a pond and it came over here 4 to 5 inches high."

The three-hour flood severely damaged at least six apartments after lunchtime downpours fed the retention pond, which sits at least a block away. The pond is designed to accommodate runoff water from a neighboring office building owned by Highwoods Properties of Raleigh, N.C.

Peter Cicale, who works at Highwoods' 380 Park Place building, saw the whole thing.

"You see that tree?" said Cicale, who works for Avnet, an electronics distributor. "A piece of ground went out by that tree. It was like a sinkhole and then it was gone."

After the dirt gave out, the pond dropped 4 feet in a half-hour, Cicale said.

All the people on the building's north side stopped to stare.

"The whole soccer field there was full of water," Cicale said. "Someone told the property manager. Someone called 911."

The water seeped under doors at Royal Breeze, bringing slime and soccer field dirt with it.

Holly Kreis and Mary Stone, who live in apartment 154-D, scooped up their little dog and retreated to a bedroom. Water bubbled up 4 inches high on their sliding glass door to their back porch, the women said.

Firefighters worked with a crew of construction workers from Cone and Graham, who were already on the scene for U.S. 19 work. Everyone pooled together when they saw the water pouring into apartments, said firefighters.

"This water didn't overflow," said district fire Chief Don March. "It undermined the concrete barrier. The construction company put dirt here and gave us all the sandbags we needed. They did a great job."

Around 3:30 p.m., the construction company backed a dump truck full of dirt near the pond. Several hundred pounds of dirt sank into and temporarily sealed the hole.

Meanwhile, the residents of Royal Breeze walked around in flip-flops while the apartment manager took notes on damage. Cleaners were called in to help drain high-pile carpets.

There were no damage estimates Tuesday, firefighters said. Only one of the residents had renter's insurance, said one apartment property manager.

Officials from the office complex pointed to construction as a possible cause.

"It is my understanding a retention pond has sprung a leak," said Stephen Meyers, vice president of Highwoods Properties. "We don't know the cause. There is construction in the area."

Almost immediately after being notified, Highwoods Properties brought in crews to help drain the pond, which stretches past two sides of the office building.

Said Meyers: "We have multiple people on the site both to fix it and deal with the details."

- Times staff writer Eilenne Schulte contributed to this report. Adrienne Samuels can be reached at 445-4157 or samuels@sptimes.com