Posted on 27 Jun 2012 by Neilson
Thousands remain evacuated from their flooded homes in sodden Florida as a weakened Tropical Depression Debby was set to move off the state's Atlantic coast and back over water.
In Florida's Pasco County alone, 7,000 homes and commercial properties remained under evacuation order, county spokesman Eric Keaton said Wednesday. Seventy-three county residents stayed in shelters Tuesday night, Keaton said.
Authorities were allowing residents who present identification at checkpoints to enter their homes temporarily on a case-by-case basis, he said. Pasco County is north of Tampa.
Debby, which made landfall as a tropical storm on Florida's northern Gulf Coast Tuesday, dumped roughly 2 feet of rain on parts of the state.
Rain had finally moved out of the region Wednesday, according to National Weather Service radar, but flood warnings remained in effect across northern Florida, although all tropical weather watches and warnings were canceled.
Evacuations, either voluntary or mandatory, were also in place in many areas.
More than 100 people scrambled to escape rapidly rising water Tuesday near the St. Marys River on the Florida-Georgia border, according to CNN affiliate WJXT. Some men had to use a boat to get back to their homes and rescue their children.
"I'm the furthest one out (from the water), which means I'm the last to go under, and I'm going under," resident George Rhoden told the station.
"Everybody behind me is in bad shape. It's rising 10 inches per hour. We got to go. Everybody got to leave."
Debby paralyzed whole neighborhoods for days.
"Sadly, my car didn't make it through the flooding. My car was just too low, and (the water) ended up hydro-locking the vehicle," Magalie Caragiorgio of New Port Richey, who missed two days of work because of the flooding, said Tuesday. "I haven't been able to get my car towed due to the amount of cars being stranded."
As of 5 a.m. ET Wednesday, Debby was centered about 25 miles southeast of St. Augustine, Florida, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was moving east-northeast at 10 mph, carrying maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.
"Additional isolated rainfall amounts of up to 1 inch will be possible in some of the lingering rain bands, mainly over southern Florida," the weather agency said.
While Florida is no stranger to tropical weather, many residents said they had never seen flooding like that resulting from Debby.
"It's astonishing," Keith Blackmar of the Wakulla County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday. "... Our soil is sandy, so it handles water well, but not this much rain."
In Sopchoppy, authorities rescued 57 people from homes surrounded by rising water, Blackmar said.
"The water levels came up so fast, some of the folks didn't have time to actually pack their things and move out," Wakulla County Undersheriff Maurice Langston said.
Florida State University researcher Jeff Chanton said the area's low-lying terrain has contributed to the misery.
"The coastal gradient -- the rise of the land -- is very, very low here," Chanton said. "If you were to go swimming here and walk out from shore, you could walk out half a mile." That means a relatively small storm surge can push water "tens or hundreds of feet onshore," he said.
More than 26 inches of rain was recorded in Sanborn, south of Tallahassee, by Tuesday. Nearby St. Marks saw nearly 22 inches.
President Barack Obama called Florida Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday "to ensure the state had no unmet needs as the governor and his team continue to respond to extreme weather and flooding," the White House said.
At the state's request, a FEMA liaison officer was on site at the Florida state emergency operations center, according to the White House.
Flooding was seen as far south as Fort Myers, where the Caloosahatchee River overflowed its banks into the downtown area. CNN iReporter Alex Butler, who is also a reporter at CNN affiliate WFTX, said normally there is a wall separating the land from the river, but the wall was underwater Tuesday.