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Rain, lightning pound Tampa Bay region, causing flooding, fire, power outages

It felt like the kind of soaking only a tropical storm could bring.

But by some measurements, the storms that marched through the Tampa Bay area Tuesday and Wednesday were worse, dumping 7 inches of rain or more and causing flooding.

"We've had some tropical storms where we haven't had 7 or 8 inches of rain like this," said Bay News 9 chief meteorologist Mike Clay.

The rain wasn't the only issue: The thunderstorms also caused power outages, fires and auto accidents.

The weather returns to normal today, with rain chances about 40 percent.

Over the two stormy days, Tampa had 4.58 inches of rain and St. Petersburg had 4.06 inches.

Some areas to the north, especially around Odessa and Trinity, had remarkably more — with 7 inches Tuesday and another 4 to 5 inches Wednesday, said Bay News 9 meteorologist Josh Linker.

The heavy rains led to a wild incident in St. Petersburg Wednesday morning, when two unidentified bystanders helped a woman escape from her sinking car in the 2400 block of 58th Street N.

Iris Levy, 61, was on her way to volunteer at the Gulfport Senior Center when she noticed cars ahead of her stalling out in the flooded street, St. Petersburg fire officials said.

Levy decided to turn back. But as she made a U-turn, she drove into a drainage culvert that runs along the street, officials said.

Levy tried to open the car door but couldn't. She honked her horn as the car sank. The bystanders saw Levy and jumped in the water to help, telling her to climb out the window. By the time fire crews arrived minutes later, Levy's silver 2006 Nissan Altima was underwater.

She was not injured.

The rain also contributed to several accidents on local roads — most notably when a tanker truck jackknifed on I-275 near downtown Tampa, blocking all southbound lanes for two hours.

The tanker, which was filled with hot asphalt, was heading through heavy rain in stop-and-go traffic just before 9 a.m. when it began to roll backward on an uphill section of I-275, according to Florida Highway Patrol.

The truck slid back into a 2010 Mercedes driven by 42-year-old Martin M. Ryan and jackknifed across all southbound lanes near the Ashley Drive exit.

No one was injured, but traffic was blocked until cranes removed the truck about 11 a.m.

Trucker Enner K. Guerro, 68, of Tampa, was charged with careless driving.

Back in St. Petersburg, a bolt of lightning started a house on fire just after 9 a.m.

Ed McBride, 61, was on his computer when he heard several loud lightning strikes at his home, 2101 14th St. N, fire officials said.

McBride then saw smoke coming from a utility closet. When he opened it, he saw flames, officials said.

Fire officials believe the fire started when lightning hit the other side of the closet. Damage was estimated at about $100,000.

In addition, several hundred customers lost power in Tampa for hours in incidents that were "all weather related," Tampa Electric spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said.

Times staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report.

How much rain fell? Tuesday and Wednesday totals, from Bay News 9:

4.06"

St. Petersburg

4.58"

Tampa

4.19"

Clearwater

4.47"

New Port Richey

2.58"

Wesley Chapel

2.96"

Brooksville

Rain, lightning pound Tampa Bay region, causing flooding, fire, power outages 08/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 11, 2011 9:17am]
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