BELLE GLADE, Fla. (WSVN) — A tropical wave potentially making its way to South Florida is posing a threat to the residents surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
Mary Ann Martin, the owner of Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina in Clewiston is one of the many people keeping an eye on a storm that is developing in the tropics. Her business and home lie on the edges of Lake Okeechobee. “I’ve seen it as high as it can go, and I’ve seen it as low as it can go,” she said.
Martin is hopeful that the lake remains at its current level. For years, the Army Corps of Engineers has been restoring the Herbert Hoover Dike, built after a hurricane flooded Okeechobee in 1928, killing 3,000 people.
Butch Wilson has family who lost friends in the flood. “Homes started floating, it started at night,” he said. “The high winds — it was just terrible.”
The Corps is nearly halfway through the 20-year project.
The lake is currently at a level of about 15 feet — a little higher than officials would like to see during the rainy season. A question on the mind of a lot of residents is if the dike will hold if the waters rise.
“You get up to 19 to 20 feet, you might as well get you a life jacket and put it on,” Martin said.
In 2008, Tropical Storm Fay poured 20 inches of rain across the sunshine state causing Okeechobee to rise four feet. “Constantly have to have a buffer roughly about three feet,” said John Campbell of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We have to assume that a storm will pass over a lake at anytime.”
However, the emergency manager in Palm County said it’s too early to worry about the potential storm. “We’re monitoring it. We’re looking at the different models and the what ifs,” said Bill Johnson, Director of the Palm Beach County Division of Emergency Management.
Despite the uncertainty of if the storm will hit, Martin still remains concerned. “It’s very safe at 15 feet,” she said. “When you start going over 15 foot lake levels, then you get into the danger zone.”
Martin said she wishes engineers had let more water out of the lake. However, officials said, there has been too much rain to do so.
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