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Hurricane Idalia spared some Tampa residents. Others suffered damage

Flooding in Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media

Flooding was a challenge for some Tampa residents in low-lying areas, while others worried about coastal communities hit harder by the storm.

The Tampa area was spared the worst of Hurricane Idalia's destruction, though storm surge and unusually high tides caused flooding in many communities.

Parts of the city, including Ashley Drive and the Riverwalk downtown as well as Bayshore Boulevard and surrounding South Tampa streets, flooded on Wednesday, with the excess water damaging cars and seeping into low-lying homes.

But many residents living inland or in high-rise apartment buildings hardly experienced any damage from the storm, which made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane further north along Florida’s Big Bend.

Onlookers flocked to flooded stretches of Bayshore and the Riverwalk to take photos of the unusual sight, while University of Tampa student Daniel Porter, 21, floated along in an inflatable raft.

Porter was all smiles at the time but assured he and his friends took the storm seriously.

Man on a raft with his thumb up
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
Daniel Porter managed to have some fun on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa after the road was flooded following Hurricane Idalia on Aug. 30, 2023.

“We prepared, we got water and charged everything, and then we had fun after that," Porter said. "We just hunkered down and then it [Idalia] kind of missed us.”

Though Tampa once again avoided a direct hit, Porter said residents shouldn’t let their guards down for future storms. He said his thoughts were with members of the community hit harder by the storm.

It was a bittersweet day for Barbara Wilhelmy, who fared well in her Tampa apartment, but was uncertain about the fate of her second home in Cedar Key about 130 miles north of Tampa.

On Monday, Wilhelmy, 55, said she evacuated her condo in the Levy County island community to escape Idalia’s impending destruction, as did most of her neighbors.

woman stands along Tampa's Riverwalk
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
Barbara Wilhelmy owns a condo in Cedar Key, one of the hardest hit areas by Idalia. She hopes it's still there when it's safe to return.

She is grateful to know that they’re all safe, but doesn’t know when she will be able to return to Cedar Key to assess the damage. Wilhelmy cherished the small town’s “Old Florida” feel and close knit community and said she was “devastated” for the island’s full-time residents.

“I mean, it’s going to be heartbreaking to see what happened there, and the people that, you know, made their livelihood there," she said. "I mean, it’s just horrible.”

“It’s going to be like Fort Myers and Sanibel last September,” Wilhelmy added, referring to the deadly impact Hurricane Ian had on Southwest Florida last year. Her family also lost property during that storm.

Wilhelmy said she is eager to find out if her Cedar Key condo withstood Idalia, but felt fortunate she had a residence in downtown Tampa to ride out the storm safely.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.