Debby weakens, but Florida still faces flooding risk


At least three people were killed in the storm. More than 100 homes and businesses were flooded and officials warned the waters may not recede until next week in some places. The storm knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers, though most had electricity restored by the time Debby left the state.

The tropical storm formed in the Gulf on Saturday and gradually made its way across the Florida, drenching the state for several days before it weakened to a depression. The windy, rainy weather ruined vacations for some.

In Live Oak, a small city in northern Florida, water was up to the roofs of some homes and cars were submerged. In other places, residents stood in several feet of water as they checked out the damage to their homes.

"The water came in so fast last night," said resident Johnny Torres. "We were lucky to get out what we could."

In Crawfordville, a small town located in the crook of Florida's elbow just south of Tallahassee, main roads were impassable.

"There's more water that anybody, no matter how old they are, has ever remembered seeing," Wakulla County Commission Chairman Alan Brock said. "It's not just people on the river, it's neighborhoods, it's places that have never been flooded."

Even though Debby lost its strength, emergency management officials said they expect the aftermath to continue causing problems with swollen lakes and rivers, along with record rainfall.

"It's not over. We've got a long way to go," said Brian Koon, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "We'll be dealing with flooding for the next week."

Several of the state's rivers in the north reached historic levels, Koon said. The Sopchoppy River reached its peak Wednesday at 36.1 feet. Before the storm, it was 8 feet.

Don Shemwell was in his summer home along the river. He had not left since Sunday because the only road leading to it was under more than 1 foot of water. At one point, the water surrounded his house, but it never actually entered the home.

"I was convinced we were going to lose everything," Shemwell said. "There's a lady who has lived her for 34 years, and she's never seen anything close to this. I mean, how often does some place get 30 inches of rain in 48 hours."

More than 200 people stayed in shelters across the state Tuesday evening.

Koon's department and FEMA will begin the formal damage assessment process on Friday. There was no immediate cost estimate for the damage.

The storm dumped about 10 inches of rain on Tampa and nearby more than 15 inches on the small city of Brooksville. Cities in the state's north fared worse: In Wakulla County -- home to Crawfordville -- 26 inches of rain fell over a 72-hour period, according to the National Weather Service.

Authorities on Wednesday confirmed another storm-related death near St. Petersburg.

Armando Perez, 71, was found dead in flood waters outside of his Indian Rocks Beach home, the Pinellas County sheriff's office said. Perez had a heart attack and officials said he likely couldn't out of the flood to get help.

Over the weekend, a woman died in a tornado in Florida and a man disappeared in the rough surf off the coast of Alabama.

In the Tampa Bay area, clouds gave way to spotty sunshine Wednesday and the water that had flooded some roads began to evaporate. City workers in Tampa carted felled trees and raked debris off Bayshore Boulevard, a 4.5-mile stretch that hugs Tampa Bay. It had been largely underwater and closed for days.

The Salvation Army handed out 1,000 personal hygiene kits to residents in three counties and would bring a mobile shower unit to people displaced by the floods in the Lake City area.

Along the state's beach communities, other worries emerged.

In Manatee County, nearly 200 endangered sea turtles lost their nests, while in Pinellas County, entire colonies of nesting seabirds were wiped out.

"I've never seen anything this bad here in this area," said Barb Walker of the Clearwater Audubon Society.

Walker added that some eagle nests were also destroyed and more than a dozen baby deer were separated from their mothers during the storm -- but most of the babies were reunited with their herds.

There is some hope for the sea turtle population, said Suzi Fox, the director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.

Although she estimated that some 180 nests in the county were destroyed, she saw 11 new nests on Wednesday morning. The turtles have six weeks of nesting season left.

"It's a gorgeous day. The waves have died down, the sun is out and the beach is flat," she said. "We have 11 nests laid on our beach as of last night and we're so excited. That's very encouraging."

Debby kept forecasters on their toes over the weekend, as its predicted path kept shifting. The weather impact for Texas is record-breaking heat.

There were unusually high tides, but no severe weather in Galveston over the weekend.

The Galveston County Office of Emergency Management closely monitored, but no increase in alert level was necessary.

Galveston Beach Patrol Chief Peter Davis said Debby should serve as a wake-up call either way.

"It may have no effect on us or a very slight effect on the coast, but this is a good wakeup call that it's hurricane season and we need to be prepared," Davis said.

Since Hurricane Ike, structures on Bolivar Peninsula have been built stronger, the highway has been raised and other improvements such as evacuation plans and emergency procedures are in place.

The National Hurricane Center says this is the first time four tropical storms have been recorded before July 1 during the Atlantic hurricane season since record keeping began in 1851.

Alberto was the first storm this year. It formed off the South Carolina coast on May 19. Then came Tropical Storm Beryl on May 26, followed by Category 1 Hurricane Chris on June 19.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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