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Section Of I-10 In Panhandle Closed Due To Debby

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(Source: CBS4's Lissette Gonzalez)

(Source: CBS4’s Lissette Gonzalez)

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ST. GEORGE ISLAND, Fla. (CBSMiami) — Tropical Storm Debby continues to be the guest who simply won’t go away.

Deluging rain from Tropical Storm Debby has forced the closure of the main interstate highway across northern Florida.

The Florida Highway Patrol closed portions of Interstate 10 early Tuesday due to flooding caused by rain. Troopers reported several areas of flooding on a roughly 50-mile stretch of the east-west interstate east of where it crosses I-75 and the agency warned motorists to use extreme caution on other parts of the highway.

South of that stretch of I-10, four puppies and a young dog drowned when a swollen creek flooded an animal shelter in the city of Starke. Officials had placed sandbags and dug trenches outside to protect the shelter, but the water rose quickly Sunday night.

Farther south, in the Tampa Bay area, roads such as Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard were washed out. Residents tried to salvage belongings from flooded homes in low-lying areas. At one point Monday, high winds and flooding concerns prompted authorities to close two major routes over Tampa Bay into St. Petersburg.

Even Disney World has seen crowds suffer due to Debby’s deluge.

Debby was expected to blow ashore by Wednesday morning in the Big Bend area — the crook of Florida’s elbow — then cross the state and head into the Atlantic.

As of midafternoon, it was centered about 35 miles off the coast and moving northeast at 6 mph. Debby was weakening and had sustained winds near 40 mph, barely a tropical storm.

Several areas in northern Florida have received more than 10 inches, and forecasters said southeastern Georgia could expect the same. Wakulla, an area in northwestern Florida known for camping and canoeing, has gotten more than 26 inches in three days.

A woman was killed in a tornado spun off from the storm, and a man disappeared in the rough surf over the weekend in Alabama. In addition to knocking out power to about 35,000 customers, Debby has caused mostly scattered flooding, but forecasters warned it could get worse.

“Even though the winds are coming down, the rain threat continues,” said James Franklin at the National Hurricane Center. “We expect another 4 to 8 inches, in some of these areas up in north Florida, in particular.”

President Barack Obama called Florida Gov. Rick Scott and promised the state will have “no unmet needs” as it deals with the flooding, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

In New Port Richey, a suburb about 30 miles north of Tampa, most of the 170-plus elevated homes at the Suncoast Gateway park for retirees had water underneath them. Several dozen homeowners decided to stay, despite having no electricity or tap water.

Some of those who left returned by kayak to collect their belongings.

Luisa Santoro decided to flee on Tuesday. Wearing rubber boots, she returned briefly to get her cat.

“My cat is atop the furniture,” she said in Spanish, adding that her home was dry but that she feared a swollen retention pond nearby would rise further.

Portions of Interstate 10, the main east-west highway across northern Florida, were shut down because of flooding.

In Apalachicola, the hugely popular Boss Oyster restaurant was closed for the third day in a row after the rain overwhelmed the sewers and knocked out drinking water.

“We’ve taken a hit,” said manager Matthew Bouzemann, adding that normally up to 800 customers a day would be coming in for the oysters.

In the Panama City Beach area, there was no exodus of tourists, said Jennifer Jenkins, executive director for the Gulf County tourism council. But it wasn’t business as usual.

“I think most people went to the grocery store, maybe bought some board games and just decided to hang out till it’s over,” she said.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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