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Thursday, Jun 22, 2017
Weather

Flood watch in effect for Tampa Bay area as Erika remnants move closer

Erika is no longer a tropical storm. Mountains and wind shear over the northern Caribbean have torn the system apart, and it has been reclassified as remnant low pressure with little chance to reorganize.

The National Weather Service expects the leftovers from Erika to mix with an upper-level low in the northern Gulf to set up a wet weather pattern for the Tampa Bay area beginning Sunday through at least Tuesday.

There is a threat of on-off heavy rainfall that could bring totals between two and four inches of rain over the next five days, with some areas near the coast seeing three to five inches, forecasters said. That could add to problems for waterlogged ground, rivers and lakes after record-setting rain fell the past two months.

As of the National Weather Service’s 5 p.m. forecast, a flood watch is now in effect Sunday through Monday evening for Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

“Our aquifers are full. There’s no more areas for the water to percolate to,” said Ed Caum, a spokesman for Pasco County’s emergency operations center.

Some parts of Pasco received 28 inches of rain over a 10-day period in July and August. FEMA is still performing damage assessments there, and a few dozen homes were destroyed by flooding.

Many residents were taking the flood risk seriously, even after the storm was downgraded. More than 10,000 sandbags had been distributed to more than 1,000 people by early Saturday afternoon at a distribution site set up near Spruce Street by the city of Tampa.

Among them was Paulette Brown Campbell, who said the living room of her Riverside Heights home was completely flooded during the summer deluge. She said she planned to be proactive this time.

Another safety concern is rip currents on Tampa-area beaches. As the remnants get closer, beachgoers were urged to look for warning flags to ensure waters are safe.

A state of emergency declared Friday by Florida Gov. Rick Scott remained in effect. He urged residents to remain vigilant throughout the weekend.

“... Erika has dissipated, as expected, as it traveled over land. That is encouraging news, but doesn’t mean we stop watching this weather system,” Scott said in a news release Saturday. “... We know that when any weather system enters the Gulf it can bring a lot of rain to Florida.”

The state Department of Education has activated its emergency contact system for school systems and will notify them if warranted. The state said any changes to school schedules will be made by district superintendents and college presidents in conjunction with local emergency operation centers.

On Friday, officials urged residents to fill gas tanks and stockpile food and water in case the storm threatened.

The hurricane center has discontinued public advisories for the former cyclone unless the low regenerates. At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, the remaining mass of bad weather measured sustained winds of about 35 mph and was moving west-northwest at 19 mph.

All coastal warnings and watches were discontinued by the hurricane center.

“The dynamical models suggests that the current strong wind shear could relax by the time the system reaches the Gulf of Mexico, and there is a possibility that Erika could regenerate,” the hurricane center said. “Regardless of regeneration, locally heavy rains and gusty winds should spread across portions of Cuba, the Bahamas, and southern Florida during the next couple of days.”

On Saturday, the remnants began drenching parts of eastern Cuba after being blamed for at least 20 people on a destructive trek through the Caribbean. At least 50 people were missing on the small eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, authorities said.

In Haiti, one person died in a mudslide just north of Port-au-Prince, and at least four others were killed in a traffic accident that apparently occurred in the rain.

Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said in a televised address late Friday that damage inflicted by the storm had set the island back 20 years. Some 15 inches of rain fell on the mountainous island.

“The extent of the devastation is monumental. It is far worse than expected,” he said, adding that hundreds of homes, bridges and roads were destroyed. “We have, in essence, to rebuild Dominica.”

Before dissipating, Erika also knocked out power to more than 200,000 people in Puerto Rico and caused more than $16 million in damage to crops there, including plantains, bananas and coffee.

In Haiti, authorities evacuated 254 prisoners in Gonaives to other locations because of flooding, and two people were hospitalized after their home in Port-au-Prince collapsed in heavy rains.

Four people died and another 11 were hospitalized in Leogane, just west of the Haitian capital, when a truck carrying a liquor known locally as clairin crashed into a bus and exploded. Authorities said it apparently was raining when the accident occurred.

The eastern Cuban city of Santiago was hit by about two hours of heavy rain as the storm was falling apart Saturday morning. Residents reported no flooding or other damage, saying they wished it would rain more to help alleviate a months-long drought that has hit eastern Cub a particularly hard.

Cuba’s midday television news program showed images of nearly deserted streets in Santiago. It reported that 249 residents had been temporarily moved to higher ground and another estimated 1,500 people with homes in low-lying areas were staying with relatives in safer areas. Santiago’s airport was closed.

 

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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