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Orlando Sentinel: Hurricanes ravage Polk

Date: Thursday, September 30, 2004

Edition: FINAL
Source: Kumari Kelly, Sentinel Staff Writer
Column: HURRICANE AFTERMATH
POLK FEELS SAVAGE EFFECTS OF HURRICANE
MORE DOWNED TREES AND WASHED-OUT ROADS MARK JEANNE’S PATH THROUGH THE
GREEN SWAMP.
POLK CITY — Jeff Conklin looks at the spot where less than 24 hours
earlier a massive oak tree crashed through his baby’s bedroom and into the
crib, fully aware of the possibilities.
“It would have crushed him, there’s no doubt in my mind,” said Conklin,
26, from his home in the Green Swamp just north of Polk City.
The town took a hit worse than in the two previous hurricanes, with power
outages throughout the area, more downed trees and Lake Agnes spilling
over its banks.
Rising water around the Green Swamp created as much anxiety as downed
trees and power lines because the water had little place to go.
Farther south, the Peace River, which drains much of Polk County, is
expected to crest nearly 3 feet above flood stage today.
“Water levels are up all over the county, and we are moving water out of
the structures as fast as we can,” said Michael Molligan, spokesman with
the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Residents along Lake Hancock north of Bartow saw waters recede a bit after
Hurricane Frances but come right back after Jeanne. Fallen trees riddled
the area around the lake worse than before.
Rising water affected people such as Conklin, who already found themselves
trapped by downed trees, and feared water would cover roads and make
cleanup even more burdensome.
Monday morning, the only access into the crashed mobile home that Conklin
lives in was by four-wheel drive vehicle or four-wheeler, and residents
feared the dirt road near the Van Fleet Trail would wash out totally in
the next day or so as water continued to rise.
Already on Monday, water rushed over the road a few inches deep in places.
Conklin and others in the home during Hurricane Jeanne, including his
wife, Beth; sons Hunter, 3, and Gary, 9 months; and three other family
members, felt the trailer sway and heard the tree when it leaned against
the house.
That’s when Jeff Conklin woke baby Gary and took him from the crib. A few
hours later, the tree fell through the bedroom like a log on a house of
cards.
“We heard a crack and then the house shifted and I ran in there and got my
baby out,” Conklin said. “My mama passed away five weeks ago and I know
that played a part. Thank goodness she didn’t let anything happen to us.”

-30-

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