State of Emergency called in Florida as Debby moves closer

Florida declares state of emergency as Tropical Storm Debby moves closer

Rick Scott tells Floridians to use common sense and be ‘very cautious’ in anticipation of flooding caused by tropical storm

Adam Gabbatt, Monday 25 June 2012 20.45 BST

Florida’s governor has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of flooding caused by Tropical Storm Debby, which is drifting languorously towards the state’s Gulf coast.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for the Tampa Bay area of Florida, as the storm’s main threat comes from heavy rainfall rather than high winds. A storm warning from the National Hurricane Center applies to most of Florida’s Gulf coast, from Destin to Englewood.

Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, advised state residents to be “very cautious”. One person has been killed in Florida so far.

Between 10 and 20 inches of rainfall is expected across northern and central Florida over the next couple of days, while some areas could see accumulations of up to 25in. Tornadoes are also possible across eastern Florida and southern Georgia, according to the NHC.

Scott declared a level 1 state of emergency – the lowest level – in Tallahassee on Monday afternoon.

“I think the most important thing is, one, just use common sense. Be careful,” Scott said, according to the Bradenton Herald.

“If you’re close to a beach, be very cautious. Look at all the beach advisories. If there’s any standing water, if there’s any flooding, don’t drive into it. Be very, very, very cautious.”

On Monday afternoon the NHC said Debby was “moving slowly northeastward” from its position around 50 miles south of Apalachicola, in northwest Florida. The storm’s top sustained winds were around 45mph, with little change in strength expected over the next day or so.

State officials estimated at least 35,000 homes and businesses were without power on Monday, as authorities in the Tampa Bay area were asking residents and tourists to stay away from flooded streets. Some streets were still under water early Monday, while others were blocked with debris.

The constant barrage of wind and rain triggered fears of the widespread flooding that occurred across the Florida panhandle during hurricane Dennis in 2005. Officials on Monday said the main bridge to St George Island was closed as the storm loomed. Power was already out on the island and authorities said it could be out for days.

On Sunday the storm spawned several tornadoes which moved through Highlands County, around 100 miles southeast of Tampa, claiming one life, according to the local sheriff’s office. Spokeswoman Nell Hays said a woman was found dead in a house in Venus that was destroyed in the storm. A child found in the same house was taken to the hospital. No further information was available on the child’s condition or either person’s age.

A 32-year-old man disappeared off the Alabama coast in rough surf kicked up by Debby, with crews continuing to search for him on Monday morning. The man, from South Carolina, was vacationing with his family when he “disappeared into the rough surf”, according to the local Press-Register newspaper.

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