Tropical storm soaks Florida's Gulf Coast

06:40, Jun 26 2012
Tropical Storm Debby
A washed out a section of the road in Alligator Point, Florida.
Tropical Storm Debby
Patrick Baroody drinks his beer as he watches the rain squalls at the end of Mashes Sands Road in Panacea, Florida.
Tropical Storm Debby
Boats slam against a pier after breaking free from their moorings as a storm surge and high winds from Tropical Storm Debby batter Bradenton Beach, Florida.
Tropical Storm Debby
High winds associated with Tropical Storm Debby batter Bradenton Beach.
Tropical Storm Debby
Tropical Storm Debby is seen in this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration handout satellite image.
Tropical Storm Debby
Structural damage is seen on a street in Pass-A-Grille Beach, damaged on Sunday night by what residents describe as a tornado, as high winds and storm surge associated with Tropical Storm Debby continue to affect the area in Florida.
Tropical Storm Debby
Mike Foster uses some spare fire line tape to rope off what remains of the roof that blew off his employer's property during the night on Pass-A-Grille Beach as high winds and storm surge associated with Tropical Storm Debby continue to affect the area in Florida.
Tropical Storm Debby
A worker begins the process of removing material torn from nearby buildings in Pass-A-Grille Beach in Florida.

Practically parked off Florida's Gulf Coast since the weekend, Tropical Storm Debby raked the Tampa Bay area with high winds and heavy rain Monday in a drenching that could top 2 feet over the next few days and that has already led to flooding.

At least one person was killed Sunday by a tornado spun off by the large storm system in Florida, and Alabama authorities searched for a man who disappeared in the rough surf.

An estimated 35,000 homes and businesses lost electricity. But as of midafternoon, the slow-moving storm had caused only scattered damage, including flooding in some low-lying areas.

Debby Florida
WASH OUT: Detour signs block traffic after Tropical Storm Debby washed out a section of the road in Alligator Point, Florida.

The National Hurricane Center reported late Monday that torrential rains and flooding would continue for the next several days across parts of the Florida Panhandle and north Florida.

The bridge leading to St George Island, a vacation spot along the Panhandle, was closed to everyone except residents, renters and business owners to keep looters out. The island had no power, and palm trees had been blown down, but roads were passable.

"Most true islanders are hanging in there because they know that you may or may not be able to get back to your home when you need to," said David Walker, an island resident having a beer at Eddy Teach's bar. He said he had been through many storms on the island and Debby was on the weaker end of the scale.


Gov Rick Scott declared a statewide emergency, allowing authorities to put laws against price-gouging into effect and override bureaucratic hurdles to deal with the storm.

By 2am Tuesday, Debby was in the Gulf of Mexico, about 145km west of Cedar Key, with sustained winds around 72kph. It was moving eastward at 6kph.

A tropical storm warning remained in effect Tuesday morning from Mexico Beach in the Panhandle to Englewood, south of Sarasota.

Forecasters cautioned that Debby is a large tropical cyclone spreading strong winds and heavy rains at great distances from its center.

They said it would crawl to the northeast, come ashore along Florida's northwestern coast on Wednesday and track slowly across the state, exiting along the Atlantic Coast by Saturday morning and losing steam along the way.

Parts of northern Florida could get 4 to 6cm of rain, and some spots as much as 10cm, as the storm wrings itself out, forecasters said.

"The widespread flooding is the biggest concern," said Florida Emergency Operations Center spokeswoman Julie Roberts. "It's a concern that Debby is going to be around for the next couple of days, and while it sits there, it's going to continue to drop rain. The longer it sits, the more rain we get."

High winds and the threat of flooding forced the closing of an interstate highway bridge that spans Tampa Bay and links St. Petersburg with areas to the southwest.

Monday evening, the state announced the closing of the Howard Frankland bridge that connects Tampa, including the region's major airport, and St. Petersburg. The eight-lane bridge carries Interstate 275 over Tampa Bay. The southbound lanes were later reopened.

People in several sparsely populated counties near the crook of Florida's elbow were urged to leave low-lying neighborhoods because of the danger of flooding. Shelters opened in some places.

On St. Pete Beach in the Tampa Bay area, surfers enjoyed the large waves in the Gulf, which is usually so calm the water looks like glass. Residents cleaned up debris in yards and streets from a possible tornado Sunday.

"The wind picked up so bad. It's very, very scary. I ran into the closet underneath the hallway stairs," said Ann Garrison, who has lived on the barrier island for 20 years but has never seen such strong winds. She said that when she came back out after just a few minutes, "the fence was gone, and it was in the middle of the yard."

Nearby, a likely tornado ripped the roof off a marina and an apartment complex and knocked down fences, trees and signs.

Kourosh Bakhtiarian's yard was flooded. He said people were driving around the neighborhood to gawk at the damage, and he complained that police hadn't closed off the streets.

"We have a lot of visitors from outside of this area. They just want to see exactly where the disaster is. I mean, this is not the happiest time," he said.

On St George Island, many businesses were closed, but Eddy Teach's bar had a few customers and used a generator to keep beer and food cold.

"The tourists cleared out. It's not a good thing and hurts the economy during a week in peak season," said Patrick Sparks, a manager at the bar. He scoffed at the storm, which was well below the 119kph threshold for a hurricane: "It's a little rash to send everyone home."