It isn't a hurricane, but Debby should give the Gulf Coast a newfound respect for the kick of even a tropical storm. Debby has lashed the Tampa Bay area since Sunday, ripping off roofs, flooding streets and homes and downing power lines and trees. And it's going nowhere fast. This is a good reminder at the start of hurricane season that even lesser storms can pack a punch.
Some Floridians take foolish pride in deluding themselves about the risks that lower-level tropical systems pose to property and human life. Those risks should be clear by now, after heavy rains and a stalled storm caused widespread damage across the region. Pass-a-Grille in south Pinellas County sustained severe damage Sunday night after a line of tornadoes was reported across the state. High winds closed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, while floodwaters closed major roads throughout the region. The letup Monday afternoon gave many residents a chance to get outside and assess the damage. Forecasters say Debby's rains and flooding could continue to impact the state for days.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday, a prudent step given the heavy rains that are expected, the saturation of the ground and the uncertainty over where the storm is headed. Authorities generally have done a good job responding to flood complaints and in clearing and closing roads overrun with water and debris. This is a balancing act, especially during the work week, but safety must come first. Residents need to keep their impatience in check if Debby remains and even more roads are closed or impassible the next couple days.
The local television stations performed a public service over the weekend by pre-empting sports and other regular programming to give residents the most up-to-date information on the storm. Floridians have an obligation to prepare, to stay informed and to act responsibly for the sake of emergency personnel and those in dire situations. Debby is no Andrew or Katrina, but its stall reminds longtime residents of Hurricane Elena hanging around the gulf over Labor Day weekend in 1985. Residents should use common sense, keep off the roads when possible and stay in touch with the forecast. It's a good reminder about the need to keep supplies and be prepared for when a hurricane pops up on the radar.