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As recovery continues, crews pump water off Suncoast Parkway in Hernando

Look no further than the Suncoast Parkway to see why the recovery from Tropical Storm Debby has been such a difficult and time-consuming process.

Crews are pumping an estimated 18 million gallons of water a day from the northern end of the toll road in Hernando County. And there's still a ways to go.

"The main issue was finding a place to put the water," said Christa Deason, a spokeswoman with Florida's Turnpike Enterprise.

So far, three pumps have removed 60 million to 75 million gallons of water. But by midafternoon Monday, part of the road was still submerged.

That's bad news for Fourth of July travelers and the roughly 5,400 daily motorists trying to travel the Suncoast between State Road 50 and U.S. 98.

It probably won't open in time for the holiday, Deason said.

Debby's deluge and the ensuing runoff from neighboring property swamped a retention pond and all four lanes of traffic just south of U.S. 98. At one point, the water over the northbound lanes was at least 5 feet deep.

"Saturday was the first day we saw it stop rising," Deason said.

Three pumps are sucking rainfall from the pond and pumping it to a dry depression to the north, Deason said. A fourth, larger pump was expected to be operating by today.

Once the water recedes, engineers must assess the roadbed to make sure it's safe for traffic, Deason said.

A week after Debby dumped record amounts of rainfall onto the area, other parts of Hernando and Pasco counties also were still struggling Monday to recover, though some places had returned to normal.

Several main roads in Hernando — including U.S. 19, Wiscon Road and Powell Road — had reopened after causing days of traffic headaches. Some of the county's busiest roads — including the parkway, part of Spring Hill Drive and part of Mariner Boulevard — remained closed indefinitely because of either water or, in the case of Mariner, sinkholes.

The preliminary cost of the damage was beginning to come into focus.

Hernando officials estimate Debby caused $3.34 million in damage throughout the county, according to an email forwarded to county commissioners from County Administrator Leonard Sossamon.

That's the amount Hernando County sent to state officials, and it will be used to try to get a federal disaster declaration, making available federal funds.

Federal and state officials began their own damage assessments on Monday.

There was some good news.

Alfred A. McKethan Park on Pine Island will reopen this morning, just in time for the busy Fourth of July holiday. Crews worked throughout the weekend to repair the beach after Debby's high tides and wind stole about 800 cubic yards of sand, forcing the closure of the park.

In Pasco, officials said much of the county had recovered from Debby.

There were no roadways in Pasco that remained closed Monday, and there was no longer any widespread flooding, said Jim Johnston, operations manager for Pasco County Emergency Management.

Many smaller areas will be under water for several days, Johnston said.

"There's going to be standing water for a few days until it percolates or evaporates," he said. "There's always small pockets of low-lying areas where water is standing in yards, waiting for the system to finally catch up."

Pasco probably won't schedule a time to collect storm debris until after the July 4 holiday, he said.

"We want to make sure we allow people plenty of time to get it out to the curb," he said.

Times staff writers Tony Marrero, Lee Logan and Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report. Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432.

As recovery continues, crews pump water off Suncoast Parkway in Hernando 07/02/12 [Last modified: Monday, July 2, 2012 9:21pm]
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