NEW PORT RICHEY — With Tropical Storm Isaac threatening Florida this weekend, Pasco officials are urging residents to get ready for wind and rain to drench an area that's still soaked from Debby.
Officials have not yet activated Pasco's Emergency Operations Center, but emergency management director Annette Doying said it could be partially activated Saturday.
Doying said "we're definitely in need of planning" for an evacuation of special-needs residents and those living in low-lying areas and mobile homes.
According to the latest forecast, Doying said the storm could bring rain and wind to the Tampa Bay area Monday afternoon. That would force an evacuation first thing Monday.
The biggest problem: Pasco has not yet dried out from Debby and several weeks of subsequent rainstorms.
"There's not much capacity in a lot of areas to take on any more water," she said.
In fact the recent rains alone have created a flooding threat along the Withlacoochee River. Hernando County Emergency Management director Cecilia Patella said her office was monitoring the rising water at the Trilby and Croom gauges along the river. Officials predicted that the river would reach "action" stage at some point Thursday, meaning residents along the river need to begin to prepare for the possibility of flooding.
The river remained 1 to 2 feet below flood stage Thursday afternoon.
With Isaac heading our way, officials said people should update their emergency plans and make a mental checklist of valuables and important documents to gather if a major storm hits. People should also monitor the latest storm forecasts.
County officials are staffing a resident information center through the weekend for people with questions about how to prepare. They are also offering sandbags at six locations.
The County Commission will meet at 2 p.m. Friday for an update and to decide whether to give administrators the power to make storm preparations over the weekend. Emergency officials will continue planning efforts with county public works employees and public safety officials.
Electric utilities are also getting ready. David Lambert, a spokesman for Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative, said the company has ordered extra fuel and has all employees on standby. It also has contracted with out-of-state crews "just in case it is necessary for them to be here."
Lambert said the significant rainfall over the past several weeks could weaken the ground around trees and make them more susceptible to falling over in heavy winds.
"This has a good potential to be a problem because of the (previous) rain. We're just so wet," he said. "Even if we get a tropical storm, with sustained winds of 60 mph, we could still have significant power outages."
Doying said a silver lining is that forecasters are projecting only up to a quarter inch of rain until the storm is expected to hit. But she said even that is too much. "We need to dry out," she said.
Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report.