TAMPA, Fla. — Practically parked off Florida’s Gulf Coast since the weekend, Tropical Storm Debby raked the Tampa Bay area with high wind and heavy rain Monday in a drenching that could top 2 feet over the next few days and trigger widespread flooding.
At least one person was killed Sunday by a tornado spun off in Florida, and Alabama authorities searched for a man who disappeared in the rough surf.
An estimated 35,000 homes and businesses lost electricity. But as of midafternoon, the slow-moving storm had caused only scattered damage, including flooding in some low-lying areas.
The bridge leading to St. George Island, a vacation spot along the Florida Panhandle, was closed to everyone except residents, renters, and business owners to keep looters out. The island had no power, and palm trees had been blown down, but roads were passable.
Governor Rick Scott declared a statewide emergency, allowing authorities to put laws against price-gouging into effect and override bureaucratic hurdles to deal with the storm.
By late afternoon, Debby was in the Gulf of Mexico, 30 miles southwest of Apalachicola, with sustained winds around 45 miles per hour.
Forecasters said it would crawl to the northeast, come ashore along Florida’s northwestern coast on Wednesday and track slowly across the state, exiting along the Atlantic Coast by Saturday morning and losing steam along the way.
Parts of northern Florida could get 10 to 15 inches of rain, and some spots as much as 25 inches, as the storm wrings itself out, forecasters said.
High winds and the threat of flooding forced the closing of an interstate highway bridge that spans Tampa Bay and links St. Petersburg with areas to the southwest.