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AWAITING ALBERTO // Expect a drenching

Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean, called in from vacation, stepped before the cameras Monday and expressed what everyone was feeling.

"Here we are again,'' she said, sounding none too enthusiastic about it.

She was talking about Tropical Storm Alberto, which is likely to cause windy conditions and some localized flooding and topple a few trees in Hillsborough County today.

Bean met Monday with the county's Executive Policy Group, which declared a local state of emergency, in case Alberto does something unexpected overnight, so emergency managers can respond as needed.

"We're hoping we won't have to do anything,'' she said.

Today, residents can expect the highest winds between 7 and 11 a.m., a smaller window of vulnerability than heavily coastal Pinellas County, National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Rude said. During those hours, winds of 40 mph could rush across the county, with gusts up to 60 mph.

Two to 4 inches of rain are likely to fall on and off all day, with the heaviest drenching coming before noon.

Larry Gispert, the county's director of emergency management, likened the threat to that of Hurricane Frances in 2004 or Tropical Storm Josephine in 1995.

He said the biggest threat to Hillsborough today may come from storm surge. An exceptionally strong high tide is expected around 3 p.m. and could result in a storm surge of around 4 to 6 feet at that time in Old Tampa Bay, Rude said.

As it reaches 6 feet, that's about when areas such as Bayshore Boulevard, the West Shore Boulevard area, Town 'N Country and Apollo Beach begin experiencing flooding, Gispert said.

Conditions should improve over the course of the day and well into the afternoon. But in the early part of the day, Rude of the weather service suggested that motorists use caution.

"If there's no reason to go out, you'd probably be better off staying inside," he said.

As a precaution, the county issued voluntary evacuations of people living in low-lying areas. The Red Cross opened four shelters for people whose homes fit that description.

Public school summer classes were called off for today, but the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County government offices were expected to remain open.

Sandbag distribution stations were opened up around the county. Officials hope it will amount to a good drill, as though you needed practice at this point.

"We're right on the hairy edge of this one," Gispert said.

Rain puddles grew into wide ponds on S Howard Avenue in Hyde Park by midmorning Monday, causing no problems except for the risk pedestrians ran of getting splashed by cars.

Bayshore Boulevard, which flooded the day before from rain and a thrusting bay surge caused by stirring winds, faced no flooding problems at high tide.

But the nonstop rain prompted some people, such as Anne Bartlett of Davis Islands, to prepare for the worst. Wearing a yellow raincoat, she loaded her sport utility vehicle with 16 bottles of Gatorade, a 24-pack of water bottles and a gallon of water outside a Publix in South Tampa.

Over the last couple of days, she said, she has been gathering hurricane supplies, which include batteries, flashlights and a television that runs off of a car battery, in case she loses power in the storm.

"I've learned you can't see the radar on the radio," she said.

At Town 'N Country's U-Save supermarket, assistant manager Larry Kirkpatrick said business was average. He said the store was stocked with water, and he wasn't expecting a rush until later Monday, when people got off work and learned that forecasters expected Tropical Storm Alberto to strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane.

There was no sign of flooding in Town 'N Country streets, which have been known to fill with water during storms.

Wanda Freyre, an Ace Hardware cashier there, said she's not worried about Alberto, nor were her customers.

Having bought a generator and a propane barbecue set, Freyre, 47, said she just needs canned food for her storm supplies.

Most customers, she said, have already bought flashlights, battery-powered televisions and generators. Monday's clientele seemed nonchalant as the rains poured. One bought bug repellent, another paint and ice cream.

But Ediberto Maribona, 73, bought lamp oil to back up the batteries and flashlights he already stocked up on.

"It's coming," he said of the heavy rains.

The Jackson Heights NFL Youth Education Town Center put up six cones in the parking lot, marking the spot where it would hand out sandbags. At least four people went home disappointed when the sandbags didn't arrive on time.

Most people seemed to be monitoring the storm more than they were preparing for it.

"Right now they're not scared," said Shawn Jivani, who runs the Yasmin Food Mart, not far from the sandbag station and across the street from the Belmont Heights Estates public housing complex.

Carl Bexley stopped by for a six-pack of Budweiser.

"I've been watching the news," he said.

He said he keeps an eye on the news every hour, but wasn't overly concerned about the storm.

If the storm seriously threatens Tampa Bay, Bexley and friend Bernard Hadley said they will get first word since both work at Tampa International Airport, where prompt and accurate weather forecasts are essential.

Times staff writer Rebecca Catalanello contributed to this report.

CLOSINGS

ATTRACTIONS

Both Busch Gardens and Adventure Island theme parks have revised their hours of operation for today. Busch Gardens will open at 10 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. Adventure Island will open at 10 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. Also, all Busch Gardens Shuttle Express services from Orlando will be suspended and day care programs will be canceled. Both are scheduled to resume Wednesday. For further updates, call 1-888-800-5447 or visit www.buschgardens.com or adventureisland.com.

All employees are advised to call the Employee Weather Hotline numbers at (813) 987-5996 and 1-866-227-5022.

SCHOOLS

Summer school has been canceled for students, teachers and bus drivers in the Hillsborough County public schools.

At this time, school district 12-month employees still are expected to report for work.

Schools are scheduled to reopen Wednesday.

School district employees and parents are urged to monitor the progress of the storm on television and radio. Updates will be posted on the school district Web site at www.sdhc.k12.fl.us. Or call Stephen Hegarty, (813) 272-4060.

All day and evening classes at the Patel Conservatory have been canceled. However, the performance of Menopause The Musical will go on as scheduled. For more information and updates, visit www.tbpac.org or www.patelconservatory.org, or call (813) 222-1001.

St. Joseph Catholic School, 2200 N Gomez Ave., Tampa, will be closed. For information call principal Florine Lagace, (813) 879-7720.

NEW DOG PARK

The opening of the new dog park at Rowlett Park, 2401 E Yukon St., Tampa, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today, has been canceled. Mayor Pam Iorio was expected to attend. Details concerning a rescheduled event date will be announced later.

ELSEWHERE

Pinellas County public schools will be open today. Parents can call the Pinellas County Schools' 24-hour emergency line, (727) 588-6424, for updated information.

The following will be closed today:

Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg summer school and sport camps.

Light of Christ Summer School, 2176 Marilyn St., Clearwater, (727) 442-4797.

Transfiguration Catholic School Summer School, 4000 43rd St. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 527-2880.

St. Petersburg Catholic High School summer school, 6333 Ninth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 235-2155.

The Arts Center camp, 719 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.

All St. Petersburg College campuses will be closed today.

Residents of Pinellas County who have been summoned for jury duty today are excused. Potential jurors should not report to any courthouse in the 6th Judicial Circuit today.

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