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Hurricane Michael: St. Pete Beach residents eye high tide, street flooding

A driver navigates the flood waters at the intersection of W Maritana Drive and Casablanca Avenue in St. Pete Beach on Tuesday. Hurricane Michael took aim at the Florida Panhandle, but low-lying areas in Pinellas still had to worry about high tide and flooding. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Oct. 10, 2018

ST. PETE BEACH — A text message Tuesday sent Steve Hassen racing back to his home on W Maritana Drive.

When he got home at about 4 p.m., the water was already halfway up his driveway.

Hassen, 55, slowly navigated his own car, and then his wife's car, through the shallow water and parked them on the driveway. Then he made sure to rinse off all the tires with fresh water.

"Idiots drive through the water all the time — they don't know the salt water erodes your car," he said.

He's lived here for three decades now, and says he knows how to deal with this kind of worrying weather.

Tuesday was a dry-run for what residents across Tampa Bay's low-lying, flood-prone areas may have to deal with when Hurricane Michael strikes the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday afternoon.

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For those who live along the Tampa Bay coast, storm surge is likely to be 2 to 4 feet above normal during high tide and 4 to 6 feet toward Hernando County.

Coastal residents should be on high alert as high tides come and go throughout the afternoon in Clearwater Beach (1:25 p.m.), Pasco County (2:54 p.m.), Hernando County (3:04 p.m.), St. Petersburg (4:03 p.m.) and Tampa (4:10 p.m.)

The National Weather Service said Tampa Bay residents can expect the risk of isolated tornadoes throughout the day, wind gusts up to 35 mph, and intermittent thundershowers — but no significant rain event was forecast.

That could all change, of course, depending on the latest forecast for Hurricane Michael. It was forecast to strengthen into a Category 4 storm by the time it makes landfall along the Florida Panhandle or Big Bend region on Wednesday afternoon. It was reported to have wind speeds up to 125 mph hour late Tuesday with a potential storm surge of up to 13 feet

Still, Hassan wasn't too worried about his St. Pete Beach neighborhood. He said the worst flooding he's seen is 16 inches of water flooding his garage and bottom floor during a tropical storm a while back.

"I tell people it's great living here 364 days a year," Hassen said, leaning on his truck and sipping from a plastic cup as he watched the water recede.

By 5 p.m., the water rippling out of the Little McPherson Bayou by the intersection at Casablanca Avenue and W Maritana Drive had largely receded.

Still, there would be another high tide to worry about just past midnight and then at about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

"We'll just have to see what happens tonight, which way the weather goes," Hassen said.

Kate Morgan, 26, says she's always has to be on the lookout for flooding in her neighborhood, no matter how slight.

"It's like this all the time," she said. "I usually know before coming in if I have to take a different path — if it's raining or if it's high tide" to get near the house she's been living in on and off for the past year with her boyfriend and his family.

But it was hard to get in through her alternate route Tuesday because the street-flooding was so high.

"I wish I had some rain boots right about now," said Morgan, who was wearing yellow sandals.

Terry Alkana, 64, who's visiting the area from Hermosa Beach, Cali., spent the day at Clearwater Beach and Honeymoon Island. He and his wife cruised along W Maritana Drive and saw the flooding, but they weren't too worried about being caught up in the hurricane: They plan to fly out Thursday.

"We figure it will get a little windy and rainy, so we'll see a movie tomorrow or do something else indoors," he said, adding:

"I feel bad for the people around the panhandle."

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