Tropical Storm Debby caught many Pinellas County residents off guard.
The storm wasn’t supposed to come here. Nothing to worry about, right?
Sure, the storm didn’t leave massive destruction. Our homes weren’t blown away – except in Pass-A-Grille where a tornado spawned from one of Debby’s many rainbands. Some homes and buildings were damaged from straight-line winds throughout the county. But, it wasn’t so bad – unless it was your home.
There was flooding. Almost a foot of rain fell in most locations during a five-day period. But county residents have dealt with flooding before – no big deal. Except for those residents who had water coming into their homes and those who couldn’t navigate streets to come and go as they please. Residents who depend on Pinellas Suncoast Transit system buses won’t soon forget Debby as bus routes were canceled or detoured.
Power outages were another problem. But again, not for everyone, as most likely would happen if a tropical storm came through packing 60 mph winds. Residents who went without the most basic of needs powered by electricity would probably say, for them, Debby was a bad storm.
The many who depend on Meals on Wheels for food probably would tell you Debby was a really bad storm as meal deliveries were suspended on Monday, June 24. Residents of Mariners Cove Mobile Home Park were evacuated due to flooding. Thankfully, the American Red Cross opened a shelter at Chapel on the Hill in Seminole for them and others who needed a place to stay.
Probably one of the most telling situations of what might be if a hurricane hit Pinellas was the bridges. There was a brief time when the only way out of this county was the Gandy Bridge. The Sunshine Skyway was closed from 4 p.m. Sunday, June 24, through 3 a.m. Wednesday, June 27. The Florida Highway Patrol reports the only other long-term closure happened during Tropical Storm Gabrielle on Sept. 14, 2001, when the bridge was closed more than eight hours. Debby’s high winds and surf closed the Sunshine Skyway for days. Again, no big deal except for those who use that bridge to get to work each day.
The Howard Frankland was closed for a time on June 25, as were the eastbound lanes of the Courtney Campbell Causeway. High winds, surf and flooding were to blame from a storm, hundreds of miles offshore.
Pinellas County’s beaches took a major hit. It’s easier now to imagine what might happen from a direct hit with 60-plus mph winds blowing waves and surf for hours and hours. Millions of dollars are needed to fix the damage and that money won’t be easily found in a time when local, state and federal budgets are limited.
Most residents probably weathered the storm OK. Probably too few will take the storm as a wake-up call that tropical weather is serious business. We now know the mess a tropical storm can create from miles away. But what if the BIG ONE came ashore in Pinellas County.
Use Debby as a reference and let your imagination go wild. Then decide if you’re truly ready for hurricane season. There’s still five months to go – to wonder and wait. But time to get ready is slipping away. Hurricane season doesn’t end until Nov. 30.
Kudos are warranted
Kudos should be given to those who spent long hours seeing to the health and safety of residents before, during and after Debby. Law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel, 911 operators, municipal and county staff. The county’s solid waste department had personnel out during the long stormy night operating portable lift stations to try to keep the sewer system going. Progress Energy had workers on the job day and night trying to get power restored. Street crews risked traveling through flooded roadways to see to your safety.
This list could go on and on, and many have gone unmentioned. Readers are welcome to send in their own kudos or complaints via a letter to the editor. Email your letters to editorial@TBNweekly.com, submit a letter using the online forms or mail your letter to Tampa Bay Newspapers, 9911 Seminole Blvd., Seminole, FL 33772.