JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Tropical Storm Debby continues to drench much of Florida with heavy rains, flooding low-lying neighborhoods as it lingers off the state's Gulf Coast Monday.
The bigger problem is the storm and its rains may stick around all week.
The governor declared a statewide emergency, and a tropical storm warning was in effect for most of Florida's Gulf Coast. At least one person was killed by a twister in Florida, and crews in Alabama searched for a man who disappeared in rough surf Sunday.
While parts of the Panhandle and Gulf Coast have had up to 12 inches of rain from Debby, most of northeast Florida experienced 5 to 8 inches in the last 24 hours. Residents awoke Monday find streets and neighborhoods flooded.
Dozens of streets in Jacksonville, Clay and Bradford counties were closed to to high water, including major roads like U.S. 301, Beaver Street, Lane Avenue, Cassat Avenue, Edgewood Avenue and Normandy Boulevard.
The rising water just didn't affect roads. Businesses and homes from Jacksonville Beach to the Westside to Starke were inundated with water.
"My fear is, with another 3 to 5, maybe even 8 inches coming over the next couple of days, we could have some very serious flooding," Channel 4's chief meteorologist John Gaughan said Monday at 5 p.m. "The heaviest of the rainfall will track just north of Debby's path, and that could be over areas that are already saturated."
At 8 p.m. Monday, the National Hurricane Center said Debby maintained sustained 45 mph winds winds. While it was only about 30 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, it had stalled again. It is forecast to begin slowly moving toward the east on Tuesday and make landfall in Florida's Big Bend on Wednesday afternoon or evening.
Once ashore, it likely will be quickly downgraded to a depression, but its the forecast path would take the storm east across the peninsula, likely exiting the state in Flagler or Volusia counties.
Channel 4 hurricane expert George Winterling said Debby could drop 10 to 15 inches across northeast Florida before the end of the week.
"Remember, water can be more deadly than wind with tropical storms and tropical depressions," Winterling wrote on his Eye on the Storm blog.
In St. Petersburg Beach on Florida's Gulf coast, a tornado ripped the roof off a marina and an apartment complex, and felled fences, trees and signs.
The storm closed the sole bridge to St. George Island, a popular vacation island in Florida. Power was already out on the island and authorities said it could be for days.
"The tourists cleared out. It's not a good thing and hurts the economy during a week in peak season," said Patrick Sparks, 26, a manager at Eddy Teach's bar. "It's a tropical storm -- it's not even a category one (hurricane). It's a little rash to send everyone home."
Residents in several counties near the crook of Florida's elbow were urged to leave low-lying neighborhoods because of the threat of flooding. Shelters were opened in some areas.
High winds forced the closure of an interstate bridge that spans Tampa Bay and links St. Petersburg with areas to the southeast. In several locations, homes and businesses were damaged by high winds authorities believe were from tornadoes.
The constant barrage of wind and rain triggered fears of the widespread flooding that occurred across the Florida Panhandle during Hurricane Dennis in 2005.
The Highlands County Sheriff's Office said several tornadoes moved through the area southeast of Tampa, damaging homes.
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.
In Orange Beach, Ala., fire and rescue workers searched for a South Carolina man who was vacationing with his family when he went under. His name and hometown were not immediately released.
As of Sunday, 23 percent of oil and gas production in the region had been suspended, according to a government hurricane response team. Employees have been evacuated from 13 drilling rigs and 61 production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
The storm was not expected to result in higher oil and gas prices.
"It's largely a non-event for oil," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.
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