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'It felt like a small hurricane': flash floods hit downtown Gulfport Saturday

A picture of Shore Blvd. in Gulfport on Saturday, July 20, 2019. Patrons of the normally bustling Neptune Grill struggled to leave the restaurant because street water was up to their ankles, said server Mattie Chrisman. [Photo courtesy of Lucky Douglas, Neptune Grill]
A picture of Shore Blvd. in Gulfport on Saturday, July 20, 2019. Patrons of the normally bustling Neptune Grill struggled to leave the restaurant because street water was up to their ankles, said server Mattie Chrisman. [Photo courtesy of Lucky Douglas, Neptune Grill]
Published Jul. 22, 2019

GULFPORT — On the third Saturday of the month, Gulfport's Shore Boulevard is normally as festive a street as you can find in the Tampa Bay area.

But Saturday night, a mighty thunderstorm ripped through town, flooding the beachfront street and causing major disruptions to local businesses.

"This was freak," said Lucky Douglas, a manager and bartender at the popular Neptune Grill. "This one was really bad. It felt like a small hurricane."

At about 6:30 p.m., the flooding got so bad that customers couldn't enter or leave the restaurant, server Mattie Chrisman said.

A video Chrisman took on her phone about that time showed water lapping against a fenced off part of the restaurant's patio. The water was higher than knee-deep, Chrisman said.

The inclement weather forced the city to cancel its Third Saturday Art Walk, a monthly event for independent artisans, Douglas said.

Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent noted that high tide flooding is common during heavy rains.

"Nothing out of the ordinary here," Vincent said of Saturday's events.

But Douglas said he was worried that both his car and his place of business were going to suffer water damage in the storm.

Fortunately, that didn't happen, he said. The streets were clear by about 11 p.m.

Still, at least one property owner bore the brunt of the storm. Video broadcast by WTSP showed a boat near Gulfport in flames after it was struck by lightning.

No one was aboard when the lightning struck, the news station reported.

This story was updated Monday with Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent's comments.

Contact Kirby Wilson at kwilson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8793. Follow @kirbywtweets.

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