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Rain leads to dozens of rush hour accidents

The wild weather that greeted morning commuters Thursday led to 76 crashes and at least 19 injuries in the Tampa Bay area during peak rush hour traffic, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

More than an inch of rain pounded the region, limiting visibility, forming ponds on roads and teaming with 40 mph wind gusts to make driving a nasty affair.

"People get crazy when it rains," said Marc Barese, 43, who saw three crashes as he drove into work in downtown St. Petersburg. "They forget how to drive."

From 6 to 9 a.m., the Florida Highway Patrol investigated 76 crashes, at least twice the number on a dry day. In the patrol's seven-county region, it was a total 102 crashes.

The problem was aggravated by a lack of rain in recent days, said Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins.

Oil and debris builds up on roads, making them even slipperier when rain finally falls, he said.

"The biggest thing is the drivers," said Gaskins.

The key: slow down, build extra time into the commute, use headlights and turn signals, limit lane changes and increase braking distance between other cars.

Three of four crashes are due to speed, Gaskins said.

During rush hour, AAA Auto Club South dispatches about 2,000 drivers throughout Florida to clear roads of crashed cars. That number spikes when streets begin flooding, but it didn't get that bad on Thursday, said Joanna Newton, a spokeswoman.

Cooler weather followed the front into the Tampa Bay area, with lows tonight expected to drop into the 40s. High temperatures through the weekend will struggle to top 70.

Tampa International Airport received 1.06 inches of rain Thursday morning. Plant City saw the most rain in Tampa Bay with about 2 inches. St. Petersburg had 1.28 inches at Albert Whitted Airport, while Clearwater had about 1.27 inches. Pasco and Hernando counties each saw rainfall of about 1 inch.

High winds and lightning also caused brief problems. About 16,000 customers were without power for about five minutes in Hillsborough County early Thursday, according to Rick Morera, Tampa Electric spokesman.

Progress Energy reported about 1,000 people briefly without power in Pinellas County.

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Rain leads to dozens of rush hour accidents 03/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2011 6:26pm]
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