As a gentle rain fell, Doug Nightingale, in orange flip-flops, blue basketball shorts and a black T-shirt, held firmly to his 10-month-old daughter, Emma, as he sat between gas pumps at a 7-11.
On Tuesday morning, Nightingale and his family – wife, Misty, his 6-year-old son Dillon, and Emma – were evacuated from their Mill Run subdivision off Trouble Creek Road by a Pasco County Fire Rescue truck.
Floodwaters had been rising in their New Port Richey neighborhood and covered three-quarters of their driveway.
"We got everything off the floor we consider valuable, [that] we wouldn't want destroyed, and hope for the best," Doug Nightingale said as the wind began to whip. The Nightingales, who managed to leave with two small bags of personal belongings, were dropped off at the evacuation staging area near the 7-11.
That evacuation scenario was repeated many times over the past two days as rain from Tropical Storm Debby added to the rising floodwaters in neighborhoods throughout western Pasco County.
Law enforcement members gathered Tuesday morning in the Walmart parking lot on the corner of Little Road and State Road 54, implementing a plan to evacuate residents.
A mandatory evacuation was ordered by the Pasco County Emergency Operations Center shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday for areas bordered by Trouble Creek Road, State Road 54, Rowan Road, Sawgrass Boulevard and Whitetail Lane.
That came about an hour after a voluntary evacuation was issued.
The evacuation boundaries could expand, depending on water swelling from the Anclote River as well as other creeks and ponds.
"We've been doing this since Sunday," Sheriff Chris Nocco said of patrolling flood areas in west Pasco. "Right now we're at a status where all manpower is concentrated on this effort."
If evacuees had no place to go, they were taken to a shelter at Chasco Elementary School or the Mike Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter in Hudson.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service in Ruskin say Tropical Storm Debby has dumped roughly 14 inches of rain on Pasco County – mainly the western edge – in the past four days.
Tuesday afternoon, the Anclote River measured at 26.11 feet, 6 feet above flood stage.
In the evacuated area, sheriff's deputies were going door to door via boat and high-profile vehicles to provide safe passage to an emergency staging at the Walmart.
Loretta and Steve Wilmoth and Diana Snyder, residents of Harbor View Mobile Manor in New Port Richey, left their home because the park shut off the electricity. They were taken to the shelter at Chasco Elementary off Ridge Road.
"We live on a canal," Steve Wilmoth said. "They told us it really wasn't in danger of flooding in our home, but they turned our power off at 2 o'clock."
The floodwaters rose to the door of their mobile home, but hadn't gone in, they said.
Susan Nowack said she was content with staying at her Park Lake Estates home – until a fire truck pulled up Tuesday morning and told her of the evacuation.
"(My house sits) high, but the only trouble is in the backyards," Nowack said. "The back yard, when it first rained, was a pond and it came in through my lanai. That's drained out."
Floodwaters engulfed the Nightingales' New Port Richey community.
"We went around with my neighbor in the canoe to see what was going on," Misty Nightingale said, laughing. "But, yeah, there are cars waterlogged."
Soon after being evacuated, the Nightingales were picked up at the 7-11 by a friend.
Three elementary schools – Seven Springs, Cotee River and Deer Park – also were evacuated on Tuesday, the Pasco County School District reported.
The Seven Springs students were taken to Schrader Elementary, and the Cotee River and Deer Park students were evacuated to Gulf Highlands Elementary.
Because of the evacuations in southwest Pasco, the school district announced that summer programs and the PLACE childcare program will not be operating at several schools today.
The elementary schools that will be closed are: Richey, Cotee River, Deer Park, Marlowe, Mittye P. Locke, Anclote, Seven Springs, Longleaf, Trinity, Trinity Oaks, Sunray, Gulf Trace, and Gulfside. Other schools closed are: Gulf Middle, Gulf High, Anclote High, Paul R. Smith Middle, Seven Springs Middle, Mitchell High and the Schwettman Education Center.
Parents of children in the PLACE program at the affected schools will have the option of taking their children to programs at these elementary schools_ Schrader, Moon Lake, Northwest, Mary Giella, Hudson or Gulf Highlands Elementary.
PLACE stands for Pasco Learning and Activity Centers of Enrichment.