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Winds subside, but water still rises in Hillsborough

Like its sister storm, Frances, Jeanne's eye grazed Hillsborough County's northeast corner Sunday with winds approaching 70 mph at times.

But the worst damage could be ahead.

Though just 2 to 4 inches of rain were expected Sunday, officials fear flooding will be even greater than from Frances.

The National Weather Service said the Alafia River is expected to crest Tuesday morning at 25.6 feet, more than 12 feet above normal. The Little Manatee River in Wimauma is expected to crest tonight at 17.9 feet, nearly 7 feet above normal. A minor flood warning is also in effect for the Hillsborough River at Morris Bridge Road.

The Little Manatee River in Ruskin was already seeping into back yards on Sunday. Along the Alafia River, residents were scrambling to preserve those personal possessions that survived Frances' flooding.

"The house is gutted, so we're not going to lose much this time," said Tim Pennenga, 24, as he and his wife, Julie, prepared to leave for higher ground.

By 6 p.m. Sunday, 180,000 Tampa Electric customers in Hillsborough were without power. Despite the storm, crews had managed to restore power to thousands of homes during the day.

Officials closed all public schools today after some schools lost power.

Surfers who tried to venture into the water near the Ramada Inn in Apollo Beach turned back quickly. Waves crashed so high they reached second-floor balconies and windows were broken by debris.

More than 4,000 people took refuge in eight Hillsborough shelters Sunday morning. Two hundred gathered in the special needs shelter at the USF SunDome.

Due to the widespread power outages, numerous sewage lift stations were not working, prompting officials to ask for restraint on usage.

Damage was minimal along flood-prone Bayshore Boulevard, where curious joggers and dog walkers ventured into the wind and rain to see Jeanne's handiwork.

"Look at that tree," said Pamela Kilich, pointing to a leaning palm tree at the corner of Bayshore and Alline Avenue. "I love it."

In Seffner and Valrico, trees were a potential menace, as massive oaks fell before wind. One tree collapsed into Edwin Tewmey's year-old garage. Tewmey, 69, has been in Indiana for all four hurricanes since Aug. 13.

"One week, Frances took the mailbox; this week, Jeanne hit the garage," said his daughter-in-law, Elena Arroyo, 33, who lives across the street.

As the storm headed north past Hillsborough County, Seminole Heights residents ventured out to see the damage Jeanne did. By 2 p.m., Kevin Bryant was already in the front yard of his sage-green home, picking up fallen branches and giving his golden retriever puppies a little fresh air.

He lost power Sunday morning and is dreading the sweltering days to come.

"This is an old house and all the windows are painted shut, so all we can open is the doors," Bryant said. "I hope the power comes back on soon, because it's going to get so hot."

Times staff writers Bill Coats, Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Sherri Day, Dong-Phuong Nguyen, Letitia Stein and photographer Mike Pease contributed to this report.

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