Rain from Tropical Strom Debby drenches Florida

Associated Press
High winds, high tide strike at the main street of Cedar Key, Fla., as Tropical Storm Debby makes it's way across the Gulf of Mexico early Sunday, June 24, 2012. Parts of Florida, including the Panhandle, remain under a tropical storm warning as Debby churns off the Gulf Coast. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)
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MIAMI (AP) — Tropical Storm Debby drenched Florida with heavy rains and flooded neighborhoods as it was parked nearly stationary Monday over the Gulf of Mexico.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for most of Florida's Gulf coast and forecasters warned of isolated tornadoes. At least one person was killed by a twister and Alabama officials searched for a South Carolina man who disappeared in rough surf Sunday.

The man, whose name and hometown were not immediately released, was vacationing with his family when he went underwater, said Melvin Shepherd, director of beach safety for Orange Beach, Ala.

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.

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

Some streets in the Tampa Bay area were still under water early Monday, while others were blocked with debris.

The constant barrage of wind and rain triggered fears of the widespread flooding that occurred across the Florida Panhandle during Hurricane Dennis in 2005.

Debby's center was essentially stationary about 75 miles (121 kilometers) south of Apalachicola. Debby's top sustained winds were around 45 mph (72 kph) with little change in strength expected over the next day or so. The forecast map indicated the storm could crawl northeast through the week, eventually coming ashore in Florida. However, a storm's path is difficult to discern days in advance.

Underscoring the unpredictable nature of tropical storms, forecasters at one point thought Debby would head west toward Texas.

"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.

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 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.

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.

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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Associated Press writer Freida Frisaro in Miami and AP Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed to this report.

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