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Date of Issue: September 16, 2009

Rain floods Island roads

With certainty the National Weather Service predicted rain for Sept. 12.

“Chance of precipitation is 100 percent,” read the forecast report from the NWS for the Tampa Bay area.

And the rain did fall, flooding streets, parking lots, stormwater ditches and driveways.

NWS warned of rivers rising quickly in the eastern part of the Tampa Bay area, especially the Little Manatee River at Wimauma and the Myakka River at Myakka River State Park.

Flood advisories were issued for the Island, as well as many other locations in Manatee, Sarasota, Pinellas, Hardee, Polk, DeSoto and Charlotte counties.

Local public safety officials reported no significant damages associated with the rainfall on Saturday, but auto mechanics might provide different reports this week.

The NWS issued an advisory urging motorists, “Do not drive cars through flooded areas.… Floodwaters are usually deeper than they appear and may stall your vehicle. Just one foot of flowing water is powerful enough to sweep vehicles off the road. Turn around. Don’t drown.”

But throughout Saturday morning, motorists — from economy cars to super-size SUVs — slogged though the flooded streets, washing the undersides of their vehicles with muddy stormwater infused with salty bay waters.

“If you’ve got to get somewhere, what are you going to do?” said Amy Hager, before she shifted into four-wheel drive to power her Jeep Cherokee through the flooded intersection of Marina Drive and 56th Street. “I can drive through the water or be trapped.”

Early risers on Saturday found a number of streets and intersections on the Island under water, but most main thoroughfares passable.

By 10 a.m. that morning, much of Gulf Drive in Anna Maria was under several inches of water, as well as large swaths of Gulf and Marina drives in Holmes Beach.

Some roads had to be closed off on the Island.

“It was almost like a tropical storm,” said Michael Stahr of Holmes Beach. “When the morning’s heavy showers came, we had water backed up higher than we’ve seen for many years.”

In addition to the pooled water — in some areas 2 feet deep — about 75 customers in Holmes Beach lost electrical service for a period after a tree fell on a power line.

The heavy rain was associated with a trough of low pressure in the area and a series of upper level disturbances moving over the region produced numerous rounds of showers and thunderstorms over the weekend, according to the NWS station in Ruskin.

By mid-morning Saturday, accumulated rainfall was 1-6 inches, depending on the area. From Friday night through Saturday evening, a reported 4-5 inches fell on the Island.

For many, the rain and flooding diminished weekend opportunities.

“We had planned a beach day but I guess not,” said Patricia Swank, a vacationer in Anna Maria. “Maybe go back home and watch movies.”

Others also improvised. On Magnolia Avenue in Anna Maria and Marina Drive in Holmes Beach, young skimboarders used the flooded streets for play.

To monitor the impact of the rain, especially in eastern parts of Manatee County where rivers were rising, the Manatee County Emergency Operations Center was activated, but did not open shelters.

Also, the EOC issued a list of safe-practices and warnings:

• Road surfaces become obscured, and drivers can unknowingly steer into a deep body of water, such as a canal or pond.

• Electricity from streetlights and power poles may be active through standing water, causing a deadly shock to anyone coming in contact with it.

• Children playing in contaminated standing water can become sick or be bitten by snakes or insects.
        • People coming into contact with floodwaters should thoroughly rinse any exposed body parts with soap and sanitized or disinfected water.

• Drinking contaminated water may cause illness. People cannot assume that the water in the affected areas is safe to drink.

Rain continued through Saturday night into Sunday morning, with winds picking up at about 4 a.m.

Scattered showers remained in the forecast through this Friday, with chances of precipitation ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent.

 Most days this week, the forecast was for temperature highs in the upper 80s — and some say, it’s a relief from the many days of summer and high 90s.