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Tropical Storm Debby approaches land, bringing floods to Florida

June 26, 2012|By Michael Muskal

Tropical Storm Debby continued its eastward track on Tuesday, bringing nasty rains and flooding to northern Florida, where many roads -- including a major highway -- were forced to shut down.

For a tropical storm, Debby was taking baby steps, moving at about 3 miles per hour as it shifted from the Gulf of Mexico toward northern Florida, where landfall was expected late Tuesday or Wednesday. Though the storm appeared stuck, its effects -- flooding and high winds -- were being felt along the Florida Panhandle and the western coast.

Winds were clocked above 45 miles per hour and parts of Florida could get as much as two feet of rain, according to forecasters.

PHOTOS: Tropical Storm Debby wreaks havoc

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday declared a state of emergency, a move that allows the suspension of some Florida laws to fight the storm. On Tuesday, President Obama called Scott from Air Force One to assure him that the federal government is prepared to provide more assistance.

Obama is on a campaign swing through Florida. He will be in Miami for two fundraisers on Tuesday.

According to Florida emergency officials, Debby was located about 50 miles south of Apalachicola, Fla., on Tuesday morning.

Tropical storm warnings were issued for Dixie, Franklin, Jefferson, Taylor, Wakulla, Madison, Levy, Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties. Tropical storm conditions are occurring over portions of the northeast Gulf Coast and are expected to continue to affect the warning area through Tuesday night.

In all, tropical storm warnings were in effect for about 450 miles of coastline, from Mexico Beach in the Panhandle to Englewood, south of Sarasota. Residents in some areas were urged to leave low-lying neighborhoods because of the danger of flooding. 

The main worry was heavy rainfall and possible tornadoes, Florida officials said. Rainfall is expected to exceed 5 inches on Tuesday. Flood warnings were issued for most of the Gulf Coast, Big Bend and several rivers. A flash flood watch is in effect for Taylor, Dixie, and Lafayette counties.

A tornado over the weekend is believed to have been responsible for one death. In that incident, a young mother was killed in Highlands County on Sunday when her home was lifted off its foundation, and she and her baby girl were thrown into nearby woods. The mother was found clutching the child, who survived, according to WFLA-TV.

In Alabama, authorities continued to search for a man who disappeared in the surf on Sunday.

Parts of Interstate 10, the major east-west corridor across northern Florida, have been closed due to flooding. Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard was among the local roads washed out.

Forecasters were expecting the rains to continue, bringing at least another 4 to 8 inches across northern Florida, with come areas getting much more. The storm could also bring up to 10 inches of rain to the Brunswick area in southeastern Georgia, forecasters said.

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michael.muskal@latimes.com

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