Tropical Storm Debby to bring rain, flooding to Florida

Flooding rains from slow-moving tropical storm could last for days

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Residents of Lamarsh Street was more of a stream Monday morning.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Tropical Storm Debby is expected to bring torrential rains and flooding to parts of Florida for the next few days.

While the National Hurricane Center said top wind speed dropped from 50 to 45 mph on Monday advisory, tropical storm warnings remained in effect for the Florida Gulf Coast from Mexico Beach to Englewood..

After being stationary for the last 12 hours, Debby on Monday began to move slowly to the northeast.

At 11 p.m. Monday, Debby was about 35 miles south of Apalachicola and was moving northeast at 5 mph.

Little movement was expected in the coming days, but it was forecast to move toward the northeast or east-northeast. Meteorologists said Debby's motion may be erratic.

Channel 4's chief meteorologist John Gaughan believes the storm will wind down from here, its outer bands will continue to drop heavy rainfall in some areas and there is the chance of severe thunderstorms and severe weather.

"There is a train of rain extending out of the Gulf to St. Augustine, and this will likely redevelop heavy storms throughout today, tonight, tomorrow," Gaughan said Monday morning.

Channel 4 hurricane expert George Winterling says Debby could drop 17 inches of rain in Florida's Big Bend region and 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.

By Monday morning, Jacksonville's official reporting station at Jacksonville International Airport had collected 6 inches of rain in the last 48 hours, and most other areas of northeast Florida have measured 4 inches, with more expected today and through the week.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the entire state, allowing the state to waive or suspend certain laws to respond to the storm. The order also puts price-gouging regulations in effect. 

While the storm remained disorganized, it continued to streamed tropical moisture across the state and lashed Florida with heavy rains and thunderstorms and spawned isolated tornadoes that killed at least one person. Another person was missing in rough surf off Alabama.

Residents in several counties near the crook of Florida's elbow were urged to leave low-lying neighborhoods because of the threat of flooding. 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.

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.

Red Cross has opened 15 shelters open across the state -- mostly in the Panhandle and and is ready to open more if conditions warrant.

Underscoring the unpredictable nature of tropical storms, forecasters discontinued a tropical storm warning Sunday afternoon for Louisiana after forecast models indicated Debby wasn't likely to turn west. At one point, forecasters expected the storm to come ashore in that state.

"There are always going to be errors in making predictions. There is never going to be a perfect forecast," said Chris Landsea, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center.

A major concern will be flooding from heavy rainfall. The storm is moving slowly, allowing its clouds more time to unload rain. A public advisory said parts of northern Florida could get 10 to 15 inches of rain, with some areas getting as much as 25 inches.

The Highlands County Sheriff's Office said in a news release that 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.

Authorities urged residents to leave low-lying neighborhoods in Franklin, Taylor and Wakulla counties because of flooding. Shelters were open in the area.

Wind tore the roof off a marina in St. Pete Beach, and a pier was heavily damaged, said Tom Iovino, a Pinellas County government spokesman. He said no injuries were reported.

In Orange Beach, Ala., a 32-year-old man disappeared Sunday in rough surf kicked up by the storm, said Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Torry James. Further information wasn't immediately available.

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.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.