Flood, evacuation concerns in Pahokee

PAHOKEE, Fla. - PAHOKEE, Fla. -- Two days ahead of the start of hurricane season the mayor of this small city nestled at the edge of Lake Okeechobee continues to worry about a worst-case scenario -- days of heavy rain, rising flood waters and no way for the nearly 6,000 people who live here to get out.

Mayor Colin Walkes said US 441, the main evacuation route out of Pahokee, could be impassable if a tropical storm or hurricane dumped significant rain over the region.

The reason?

Pahokee doesn't have a drainage system.

"We have what we call a run-off system in our area where the rain falls and the rain basically runs off wherever it can settle and pool," Walkes said. "For individuals who are traveling from the south, to get through this community to get to safety, that would be a major misnomer because we cannot control the water within our own city limits here."

Walkes said his concern was heightened after weather forecasters predicted an active hurricane season.

"[The Army Corps of Engineers] came in and did an excellent job with repairing the dike itself which would hold the water back [from Lake Okeechobee] from coming to us," Walkes said. "The other side of it, what we're dealing with, once the water itself hits on the ground, we have no way of getting rid of the water."

Walkes said the solution -- creating a drainage system in the nearly 100-year-old city -- would cost millions if not billions of dollars.

"We're talking about basically repairing a city, in my estimation, that has been neglected, when it comes to infrastructure for, mainly, since our existence," Walkes said. "We need assistance from the county, state and federal level. We need assistance from anywhere we can get it. We need that assistance."

On Wednesday, Walkes shared his concerns with U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and a commander of the Army Corps of Engineers at the South Florida Water Management District.

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