Skyway Bridge shut down in Tropical Storm Debby's high winds

Tornado watch extended to 11 p.m.

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 25, 2012 

MANATEE — Numerous sailboats have broken free of their moorings and have been driven by winds and water from Tropical Storm Debby into the Bradenton Beach Pier, an official said Monday morning.

“They’re jammed up against the pier, next to it and under it,” explained Sam Speciale, police chief at Bradenton Beach. “The public works department is placing barricades up to shut the pier down.”

Both the Cortez and the Manatee Avenue bridges linking the mainland to the beaches have been closed to boat traffic, he said.

“They won’t be raising the bridges,” said Ron Koper, acting deputy director of public safety for Manatee County Emergency Services.

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge remains closed due to high winds and area flooding, according to Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a public affairs officer for FHP.

At midafternoon Monday, winds were measured at 52 mph, he said. Traffic on Interstate 275 continued to be closed to both southbound and northbound traffic -- southbound traffic has been diverted at S.R. 682, also known as the Pinellas Bayway, and northbound traffic has been diverted in Manatee County, he said.

The Skyway will remain closed until weather conditions improve. Motorists may check the FHP website at http://www.flhsmv.gov/fhp, or call 511, Gaskins said.

A tornado watch has been extended to 11 p.m. tonight, said Laurie Feagans, the county's emergency management chief, during a briefing today at the county Emergency Operations Center.

There has been flooding of private homes on the bayside of Anna Maria, Diana L. Percycoe, treasurer, finance director and deputy city clerk for the City of Anna Maria, told officials gathered for the briefing.

She said sandbags and more barricades are needed.

Commissioner Larry Bustle said he was impressed with the efficiency of the Emergency Operations Center staff.

"I never cease to be amazed at how on top of things this EOC is," he said.

Commissioner Joe McClash said it was a good wake-up call for everybody.

"For years, we haven't had any weather like this," he said. "People need to be prepared."

Speciale reported sailboats had broken free and had lodged against the bridge where Cortez Road connects the mainland to the beach.

The U.S. Coast Guard investigated, and determined it was the owners’ responsibility to remove the boats, said Michael De Nyse, a public affairs officer for the Tampa Bay Coast Guard.

“I advise people to stay home, there’s a lot going on out here,” said Speciale, who also noted that so far, no one had been reported hurt locally in connection with the storm.

“Tell people to remember that water on the ground is saltwater — they don’t want to put their cars through that,” he said.

Capt. Joe Westerman, of Manatee County Marine Rescue, said his crews had reported a rescue call involving a surfer over the weekend, but he drove himself to the hospital for treatment.

Westerman also had a warning for would-be boaters or weather adventurers: “We’ve got high surf, we do have some roadways still with water covering them -- not from high tide, just from the amount of rain we received,” he said.

“We’ve got heavy rip currents, big portions of our beaches will probably be closed, and we will be monitoring the surf.”

Officials expect high tide at 4:15 p.m. to be 3 or 4 feet higher than normal, he said, and there is a small craft advisory in effect.

There were as many as 15,000 power outages reported at one time, officials said during a briefing at 1:30 p.m. at the Manatee Emergency Operations Center.

But by 2:30 p.m., there were about 4,000 mostly scattered outages in Florida Power & Light's Manatee service area, said FPL spokesman Neil Nissan.

Crews are working to restore power as fast as possible. Often, the outages are caused by tree limbs being blown onto power lines, Nissan said.

Tropical Storm Debby remains in the northern Gulf of Mexico, lashing the area with wind and torrential rain.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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