* Storm prompts state of emergency in Florida
* Torrential downpours trigger flash flood warnings
* Seen moving inland by Thursday, storm may re-emerge over
By Kevin Gray
MIAMI, June 25 Slow-moving Tropical Storm Debby
buffeted parts of Florida with driving rains and high winds on
Monday, and threatened more flooding and tornadoes on Tuesday as
it hovered off the state's northern Gulf of Mexico coast.
With tropical storm-force winds extending outward up to 240
miles (390 km) from its center off the northwest coastal town of
Apalachicola late Monday night, forecasters said Debby menaced a
broad swath of inland territory with flash floods.
"Torrential rains and flooding will continue for the next
few days across portions of the Florida Panhandle and North
Florida," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.
Apart from coastal flooding, from storm surge and
wind-whipped rising Gulf tides, it said tornadoes were possible
through Tuesday along the Florida Peninsula.
Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency earlier on
Monday and a tropical storm warning was in effect along much of
the Gulf coastline.
"Because of the broad impact of Tropical Storm Debby,
virtually every county in Florida could be affected," Scott said
in a statement announcing the statewide emergency.
"Some communities are already grappling with flooding, wind
damage and electrical outages," said Scott, who ordered all
state agencies, including the Florida National Guard, to provide
any necessary assistance requested by local governments.
The Hurricane Center said Debby, the first named storm of
2012 to move into the Gulf of Mexico, was packing top sustained
winds of about 45 miles per hour (72 kph) and forecasters
predicted little change in strength over the next couple of
Over the weekend, the storm idled about a quarter of U.S.
offshore oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico,
based on figures issued by U.S. offshore regulators.
But on Monday, after the storm had veered away from the Gulf
oil patch, big offshore drillers like BP Plc and Royal
Dutch Shell began returning staff to offshore
Forecast models show Debby making landfall along the
northern Florida Gulf Coast later this week. Dubbed "Debby
Downer" in some local media reports, it could dump more than a
foot (30 cm) of rain in some areas of the state, with isolated
amounts of more than two feet in north Florida, the hurricane
Flash flood warnings were in effect for many areas,
including some where streets were already under water, and
emergency management officials cautioned that inland flooding
was associated with more than half the deaths from tropical
cyclones in the United States over the last 30 years.
"Gulf Coast residents and visitors should take Tropical
Storm Debby seriously," said Federal Emergency Management Agency
director Craig Fugate. "Flooding with Tropical Storm Debby is a
very big concern for the Florida Panhandle and portions of the
Florida officials said the storm had left tens of thousands
of people without power and forced the closure of key highways
and bridges in the Tampa Bay area, including a four-mile
(six-km) span connecting the city of St. Petersburg with the
On Sunday, Debby spawned twisters that killed a woman, badly
injured a child and wrecked homes in central Florida in rural
Highlands County, according to an emergency management official.
Florida's Pinellas Country was also hit hard, with flooding
in some areas and at least 20 houses with roofs that were
partially or fully blown off during a tornado-like storm on
In Alabama, rescuers continued a search on Monday for a
swimmer who is presumed dead after he went missing off the Gulf
Coast near Orange Beach on Sunday.
Though Debby's track was still uncertain, the hurricane
center said it could re-emerge and gain strength over the
western Atlantic Ocean by next weekend.