Volunteers rally to aid storm-stranded residents of Holly Hill's Marina Grande condos

When Ian swept through Volusia County on Wednesday and Thursday, it knocked out water and elevator service at the Marina Grande on the Halifax luxury condominiums in Holly Hill.

Water service and all but one of the six elevators in the twin-tower riverfront complex remained out-of-order two days later.

"We've got elderly people here who can't flush their toilets, even right now," said Marina Grande resident Rick Durgin on Saturday morning. Durgin and his fiance Jami Gallegos live in a unit on the 24th floor of the north tower.

Deena Jones Adelson, who with her husband Bob lives in a unit on the ninth floor of the south tower, said some residents were walking down the stairs of the 26-story buildings to fill buckets with water from the Marina Grande's two pools.

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Human daisy chain formed

The dire situation prompted two dozen volunteers to show up Saturday afternoon to partner up with the complex's property management staff as well as employees with a company called Rapid Response Team to deliver donated cases of bottled water to residents.

They did it by using the lone working service elevator in the north tower.

The south tower required the volunteer brigade to form a human daisy chain to physically carry cases of water to residents starting with the 26th floor and working down.

Each unit received a full case of bottled water.

By the time water was delivered to the top eight floors of the south tower shortly after 3 p.m., the volunteers were relieved to learn that all the elevators were finally back in service.

"Everyone cheered, but it was more of an exhausted celebration. We were all beat," said volunteer Marsha Evans, president of the Daytona Beach Area Association of Realtors. "It was quite a workout today, but it was worth it to guarantee that these residents had water in their units tonight."

Marsha Evans, president of the Daytona Beach Area Association of Realtors, smiles as volunteers carry donated cases of bottled water up the stairs of one of the two 26-story towers at the Marina Grande condominiums in Holly Hill on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. Residents were without running water since Thursday when Tropical Storm Ian swept through the area. Out-of-service elevators required the water to be delivered on foot.
Marsha Evans, president of the Daytona Beach Area Association of Realtors, smiles as volunteers carry donated cases of bottled water up the stairs of one of the two 26-story towers at the Marina Grande condominiums in Holly Hill on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. Residents were without running water since Thursday when Tropical Storm Ian swept through the area. Out-of-service elevators required the water to be delivered on foot.

The water brigade was organized by Evans, agent with Realty Pros Assured, along with Realtor Eva Garcia of Urbanista Realty, Marina Grande homeowners association board member Tarek Naemo, local citizen volunteer Steve Parker, and employees with FirstService Residential, the condo complex's property management firm.

A crew from Florida Power & Light arrived Saturday afternoon to repair the three-phase electrical feed to power the water pump to allow service to resume for all Marina Grande residents. Water service was restored that evening.

Volunteers unload donated cases of bottled water at the Marina Grande condominiums in Holly Hill to be delivered to residents on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 1, 2022. Residents in the two 26-story towers were without running water since Thursday when Tropical Storm Ian swept through the area. The water seen here was donated by the United Brethren in Christ Church in Holly Hill.
Volunteers unload donated cases of bottled water at the Marina Grande condominiums in Holly Hill to be delivered to residents on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 1, 2022. Residents in the two 26-story towers were without running water since Thursday when Tropical Storm Ian swept through the area. The water seen here was donated by the United Brethren in Christ Church in Holly Hill.

Marina Grande residents express anger, frustration

Several Marina Grande residents expressed anger and frustration at the situation on a private residents-only group page on Facebook.

Some accused FSR's property managers of being missing in action when the heavy rains and wind from Ian began pummeling the area Wednesday afternoon and that they remained unreachable for residents until Friday morning.

FSR Regional Manager David Astrello confirmed that his company's on-site property management team were sent home on Wednesday afternoon and that they didn't return until 7 a.m. Friday.

But that was because of Volusia County's curfew during the storm, he said.

"That's standard protocol," he said.

Astrello noted that FSR has managed the Marina Grande for the past 10 years including when hurricanes Matthew and Irma hit the area in 2016 and 2017. He added that his company's employees have homes and families of their own that needed tending to and that he didn't want to risk having them stuck at the condo complex when Riverside Drive, the road in front of the property, began flooding as it typically does during hurricanes and tropical storms.

"We were sending out emails and using our emergency broadcast system to keep residents informed," he said.

Jones said residents did receive general emails from FSR's South region president, but that they didn't receive an email from an actual property manager for the Marina Grande until Friday evening.

Durgin said FSR did not use the Marina Grande's emergency intercom system to communicate with residents until 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to losing water and elevator service, residents at the Marina Grande also lost electric service from Thursday morning until some time on Friday.

They were also prevented from leaving the complex for the better part of both days because the surrounding streets were flooded.

At times, the water level on the street rose as high as 4½ to five feet, confirmed Astrello, but no condo units were flooded.

The situation at the Marina Grande was compounded for those living in the north tower when some residents let their pets defecate in one of the stairways during the storm.

The crew from Rapid Response Team immediately cleaned up the mess created by the pets as well as cleaning up the rest of the hallways and stairwells in the two towers on Saturday morning, said Naemo.

Ian also ripped off the decking of the 200-foot-long dock behind the Marina Grande. The pilings remained intact which should allow the dock to be fully restored, said Astrello.

The elevators stopped working when the loss of electrical power caused the system to lock up, according to Astrello and Naemo.

Both said the vendor that services the elevators only allows its technicians to unlock the system.

The vendor, however, did not provide one of its service technicians until Saturday afternoon, Astrello and Naemo said.

Storm created widespread flooding

Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte said Ian created an unprecedented amount of widespread flooding that surpassed the levels recorded during hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

"Matthew and Irma, those storms were wind storms that did have some flooding. This (Ian) was primarily a water event," he said. "Between Wednesday and Thursday, we received 22.9 inches of rain."

Garcia who used to live in the Marina Grande said another big difference between what happened during Ian compared with hurricanes Matthew and Irma is that the 486-unit condo complex was less than half occupied back then. It's 100% occupied today.

Volunteers gather at the Marina Grande condominiums in Holly Hill to deliver cases of water to residents on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 1, 2022. With the exception of the ground floors, the two 26-story towers were without running water since Thursday when Tropical Storm Ian swept through the area.
Volunteers gather at the Marina Grande condominiums in Holly Hill to deliver cases of water to residents on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 1, 2022. With the exception of the ground floors, the two 26-story towers were without running water since Thursday when Tropical Storm Ian swept through the area.

Some residents who weren't there when those previous storms hit may have had unrealistic expectations of FSR, she said. Garcia manages approximately 50 units at the Marina Grande.

Residents: Improvements in action plan needed

Forte said he heard various complaints from Marina Grande residents, and has spoken with both FSR officials as well as homeowners association board members. At this time it is difficult to know who is wrong or right.

"After all this is said and done, it's important that the city work with the Marina Grande to help them develop an emergency response plan," he said. "If there was one in place, it may not have worked very well."

Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via offered a similar assessment. "I've heard reports every which way," he said on Saturday in a phone interview before showing up at the Marina Grande to take part in the volunteer water brigade. "After this is all over and done, we'll be meeting with them to establish some emergency protocols."

Astrello maintained that FSR did, in fact, have an emergency response plan in place. "The main thing is the FirstService team was here as soon as it was safe. There's going to be some areas for improvement, but we had maintenance people working here until 11 at night (Friday) to make sure we're giving service to all the owners here."

Jones chairs the Marina Grande homeowners association's social committee. Despite the harrowing experience that she and the other residents endured during Ian, she said, it is important for the public to know, "the buildings are very sound."

Durgin praised Naemo as well as other homeowners association board members for going "above and beyond" to rectify the situation.

"I personally dealt with Nancy Keefer of the Daytona Regional Chamber who worked with me behind the scenes to get the city and FPL to get us some help."

He also praised Via and Forte for their quick response once notified as well as the FSR staff once they showed up.

"The maintenance staff once they arrived were working hard on what they were instructed to do," Durgin said.

"The only problem I have with FSR during the storm, FSR left the property 100% from 12 o'clock Wednesday until Friday morning," Durgin said. "What they should have done was to have an emergency plan in place with one person on-site at least until the storm hit if not throughout the entire storm. A board member even offered them a safe place to stay. I don't blame them for what happened that the storm created. But they could've been better with execution and communication and when the storm was over in getting things fixed sooner."

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Ian's aftermath: Volunteers aid stranded condo residents in Holly Hill