Tropical Storm Closes Schools, Knocks Out Power, Shuts Down Bridge
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Tropical Storm Marco buffeted Florida’s Gulf Coast with 65 mph winds and up to 5 inches of rain this morning before starting to weaken as it hugged land in the Tampa Bay area.
On its way it it cut power to at least 14,000 people, closed schools and shut down a bridge.
Bermuda, meanwhile, braced for Hurricane Lili, upgraded from tropical storm status Wednesday as its winds neared 75 mph. At noon, Lili was centered about 145 miles southeast of Bermuda.
Forecasters said Bermuda began feeling the effects of Lili this morning with rain showers, thunderstorms and gusty winds. Hurricane conditions on the island were possible later today, according to the hurricane center.
At noon EDT, Marco’s center was located about five miles north of Clearwater and moving north at 9 mph. Its sustained winds had dropped to 45 mph, from 65 mph earlier in the day. Storm-force winds extended outward 150 miles over open Gulf waters and 50 miles east of the center, mostly over land. Forecasters said the sweep of winds over land would gradually weaken the storm.
″It was a difficult night but I think we came out better than we expected,″ Chris Eversole of Sarasota Emergency Management Preparedness said at daybreak. ″It looks like the worst may be over. The winds are calming and the rain is subsiding.″
The 150-foot Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay was shut down by the winds, The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the Florida Highway Patrol said. Power lines were toppled and schools were closed in Manatee and Sarasota counties because of heavy rain and winds, authorities said.
Emergency management officials said 14,000 Sarasota County residents were without power early today, but by 7 a.m. it had been restored to all but 4,600. Scattered outages also were reported in the Bradenton area.
In Manatee County, 35,000 residents lost power overnight. By late morning 10,000 customers were still out.
A motorist in Sarasota was seriously hurt when a tree fell on his car.
Marco was expected to push tides 1 to 3 feet above normal, scour the sandy beaches and dump 3 or more inches of rain in some sections.
All Red Cross chapters on the Gulf Coast from the Keys to the Panhandle were on alert and ready to open shelters, state disaster specialist Karen Wescott said. Two shelters opened in Bradenton for voluntary evacuees.
In the Keys, trucks and vans were advised to stay off bridges because of strong gusts.
Myton Ireland, owner of a marina on the barrier island Sanibel, hauled nine boats, all 40 feet or longer, onto land Wednesday.
″We’re prepared, as prepared as we’re going to be,″ Ireland said. ″If we wait too late and then it blows hard, we’re in trouble.″
While potentially damaging, Marco also could give the state some relief from a drought, Case said.
″We’ve got a tap on the tropics,″ he said. ″We’ve got a mechanism here where we can bring tropical air up over the southeastern United States and have the mechanism squeeze it like you would a sponge.″
Jimmy Brooks, a water manager in Inverness, said residents still will need to conserve. ″Every drop helps, but we didn’t get into this situation overnight and one storm will not bring us out of this drought situation,″ he said.
In North Carolina, rains attributed to Marco flooded roads and were blamed for two highway deaths. They may also have caused a freight train to jump its tracks, officials said.
The deluge was welcome in at least one place.
The more than four inches of rain that drenched the Florida peninsula also doused the biggest part of a 40-day-old fire in the Okefenokee Swamp. Ignited by lightning, the fire has blackened more than 20,000 of the swamp’s 438,000 acres. Officials at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge said today that peat moss in the swamp is likely to continue smoldering, however.
″The fire essentially has gone underground,″ said Dorn Whitmore, a refuge spokesman. ″The peat will smolder till the swamp floods. But the fire won’t advance anymore.″
Marco is the 13th named storm of Atlantic season, which runs from June through November. Seven have become hurricanes. Tropical storms have maximum sustained winds of at least 39 mph.