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Henri Weakening but Still Soaking Florida

September 6, 2003

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. (AP) _ Tropical Storm Henri was weakening Saturday morning, yet still threatened to bring several inches of rain to both Florida coasts, including some areas already saturated by one of the wettest seasons in decades.

The storm’s sustained winds were down to 40 mph early Saturday, only 1 mph above the minimum threshold for tropical storm status. Forecasters said Henri could be downgraded to a tropical depression later Saturday morning.

At 2 a.m. EDT, Henri was centered about 55 miles west-southwest of St. Petersburg and drifting south at about 3 mph, forecasters said. It was expected to reach land later Saturday, Hurricane Center forecaster Miles Lawrence said.

``It looks really weak right now,″ Lt. Dave Roberts, a Navy meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Saturday. ``Rainfall is still a concern in low-lying areas and the rivers could be above normal.″

A tropical storm warning was in effect for a 170-mile stretch of Florida’s Gulf coast, from Englewood south of Sarasota north to Suwanne River. Forecasters warned that isolated tornadoes may also develop.

The storm was also responsible for at least two injuries Friday. A Lee County man, whose name and condition were not released, was struck by lightning. A Pinellas Park man, identified by Tampa police as Edgardo Pulido, 55, lost control of his hydroplaning pickup on rainslicked Interstate 275 in Tampa and crashed into a concrete wall. Pulido’s injuries were life-threatening, police said.

Henri brought more than 7 inches of rain to some southwest portions of the state, adding to summerlong flood woes in many counties. Some areas could see another 4 to 8 inches of rain on Saturday, forecasters said, and a coastal storm surge of 2 to 3 feet above normal tide levels was also expected.

Rain was falling at a rate of 1 inch per hour in the Punta Gorda area Saturday morning, adding to widespread street flooding in Charlotte County. More than four inches of rain fell in a two-hour span in Punta Gorda on Friday afternoon, flooding virtually all the city’s streets, said Wayne Sallade, Charlotte County’s director of emergency management.

``Massive is the best way to describe it,″ Sallade said. ``What we’ve been doing is trying to urge people to get home and stay home.″

More than 5 inches of rain fell in an hour in North Port in Sarasota County, causing more street flooding, city officials said.

``This is the first time I’ve seen our streets like that and I’ve lived here 25 years,″ Jacqueline Walsh of Venice Gardens said. ``It just came down so fast and so hard that the storm sewers couldn’t take it.″

At least 31 high school football games in six counties were canceled because of the storm, as was a season-opening pep rally for the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Game 1 of the Florida State League baseball championship series between Dunedin and St. Lucie.

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On the Net:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/

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