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Debby Disrupts Travel in Florida

Tropical Storm Debby over FloridaEarlier this week, there were reports of Tropical Storm Debby causing travel disruption to the US, with certain regions of Florida being reportedly flooded. Isolated tornadoes and heavy rain were reported in St Petersburg and Tampa, with a public weather advisory warning that up to 15 inches of rain could fall in the north as the stormy system moves on. Due to flooding, some roads and highways had to be closed.

On Tuesday morning, Interstate 10 was closed when flood waters made is impossible for travel. This road runs along the Gulf of Mexico coast and into northern areas of the state. The downpour has damaged thousands of homes and businesses across the region, despite winds only reaching about 45mph. Other popular Gulf Coast tourist areas have reported getting up to 26 inches of rain.

University of South Florida geology professor Ping Wang says that the tropical storm caused severe erosion to sand dunes in Pinellas County, with his lab recording a retreat of between ten and 15 feet at Sunset Beach in Treasure Island. Some local businesses are concerned that the storm’s damage will affect business in the area as well. Sabal Palms and Coconut Inns general manager Eddie Rodrigo said one of the reasons people visit the area is to use the beach. It will hurt them if tourists can’t use the beach, he added.

By Wednesday, Debby had devolved to a tropical depression and moved into the Atlantic Ocean. However, the storm left three people dead and one missing. The missing person is a 32-year-old from Alabama, who had been swimming off the coast of Orange Beach.

Florida’s State Emergency Response Team said that all the deaths happened on Sunday – before the storm first made landfall in the north – in the Highlands, Pinella and Polk counties. One was a 21-year-old woman who hydroplaned in her vehicle and crashed. Another was a 71-year-old who was found face down in floodwater. The third person was a 32-year-old trying to shelter her three-year-old daughter from a tornado, and she was still holding onto her child, who was being treated at hospital, after being thrown almost 300 feet into the woods.

Due to the flooding in Florida, thousands of people are still evacuated from their homes, with 7,000 properties in Paco County alone still under an evacuation order. However, residents who show identification to authorities at checkpoints are being allowed to temporarily enter their homes on a case-by-case basis. Florida Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman Julie Roberts said that Interstate 10 was still shut down in both directions in Baker and Columbia counties. She added that more evacuations may be imposed in Hamilton County near Black Creek River.

On top of this, the State Emergency Response Team said power outages affected over 11,000 residents in 39 counties on Wednesday. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama contacted Florida Governor Rick Scott to ensure the state didn’t need anything, and a White House official says his team has continued to respond to the intense weather and flooding. A Federal Emergency Management Agency liaison officer was on site at the emergency operations centre at the state’s request, they added.

The National Weather Service said that the rain finally moved out of northern Florida by Wednesday. However, flood warnings were still in effect across the region. The service also cancelled all tropical weather warnings and watches. Forecasters said that rainfall diminished, but isolated rainfall of up to 1 inch would be possible – mostly across southern Florida. Although they said flooding would begin to subside on Wednesday in some areas, some rivers were still rising while others were starting to crest.




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