We're not out of the woods yet from Tropical Storm Debby

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 26, 2012 

MANATEE -- The deluge of rain and high winds from Tropical Storm Debby shut down Manatee bridges to boaters Monday, closed the Skyway Bridge indefinitely and downed trees everywhere.

But as of Monday evening, no serious injuries or accidents were reported on Manatee roads that might have been caused by the lousy weather. Tropical Storm Debby raked the Tampa Bay area with high wind and heavy rain Monday in a drenching that could top 2 feet over the next few days and trigger more widespread flooding.

Numerous sailboats were ripped from their moorings and driven by winds and water into the Bradenton Beach Pier and Cortez Bridge.

"They're jammed up against the pier, next to it and under it," said 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 were closed to boat traffic.

"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 was closed to both southbound and northbound traffic -- southbound traffic has been diverted at State Road 682, also known

as the Pinellas Bayway, and northbound traffic was 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.

The area remained under a tornado watch through the night, said Laurie Feagans, the county's emergency management chief, during a briefing at the county Emergency Operations Center.

A good number of homes on Anna Maria Island were flooded, particularly on the bayside, said Diana L. Percycoe, an official with the City of Anna Maria. More sandbags and barricades were being trucked to the island late yesterday.

But one of the biggest problems Monday were runaway boats. The U.S. Coast Guard determined it was the owners' responsibility to remove the boats, said Michael De Nyse, a public affairs officer for the Tampa Bay Coast Guard.

May and Jeremy Galloway were left homeless after their 26-foot live-aboard vessel came loose from its mooring in open water off Anna Maria Island and slammed repeatedly into a floating dock.

"It was rising four or five feet in the air and slamming down on the dock," Jeremy Galloway said Monday night.

The Galloways sent their four-year-old daughter, Summer, to stay with her grandmother at the approach of the storm, but did not anticipate the power the Debby.

"We're taking it a day at the time," Jeremy Galloway said, adding that the American Red Cross has put the couple in a motel for a few days.

Capt. Joe Westerman, of Manatee County Marine Rescue, 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," Westerman said. "We've got heavy rip currents; big portions of our beaches will probably be closed, and we will be monitoring the surf."

There were as many as 15,000 power outages reported at one time throughout the county, officials said at the Manatee Emergency Operations Center. By late afternoon, that was reduced to fewer than 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, with many of the outages caused by downed tree limbs.

Upper Manatee River Road was closed Tuesday after water began flowing over it, Manatee County government reported.

The bridge leading to St. George Island, a vacation spot along the Florida 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.

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. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was monitoring the storm, saying it could affect Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina.

Forecasters said Debby 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 10 to 15 inches of rain, and some spots as much as 25 inches, 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."

The long-lasting storm captured national attention. "Good Morning America" was on Lido Beach in Sarasota Monday morning, shooting a live segment on the impact of Tropical Storm Debby on Florida's west coast.

The TV crew focused on Ben Franklin Drive, the road going out to Lido Key, where 2 feet of standing water had stranded some vehicles, said Captain Wade McVay of the Sarasota Police Department.

"The 600 block of North Lime was also flooded, but St. Armand's Circle did fine due to new pumps," McVay said.

Manatee 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."

-- Herald reporter Richard Dymond contributed to this report, which includes material from the Associated Press.

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

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