Gov. Rick Scott flew back to Tallahassee Monday after cancelling two official events in Tampa, where rainfall from Tropical Storm Debby was among the heaviest in the state.
At a news conference at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, Scott advised Floridians to be safe, avoid non-essential driving, pay close attention to weather reports and stay away from downed power lines.
"I think the most important thing is, one, just use common sense. Be careful," Scott said. "If you're close to a beach, be very cautious. Look at all the beach advisories. If there's any standing water, if there's any flooding, don't drive into it. Be very, very, very cautious."
Emergency managers said Debby, a dense, slow-moving storm, plans to stick around for awhile, and that rains could last until Thursday. No National Guard troops have been activated and the state has not yet asked for any federal disaster assistance.
Scott said the storm is 75 miles off the coast and is moving in a northeasterly direction at 3 miles an hour. He said the low-lying counties of Taylor and Dixie were in the storm's path, and that both counties could sustain from 10 to 20 inches of rain in the next couple of days.
"We could be seeing 10 to 20 inches of rain in parts of the state that could lead to some fairly severe flooding," said Bryan Koon, the state's chief of emergency management. Heavy winds have forced the closing of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Bradenton and the causeway bridge to St. George Island, south of Tallahassee, he said. "Wind primarily. They're just not safe to cross when it gets about 40 miles an hour," Koon said.
Koon said power outages are scattered and widespread and he estimated that 35,000 people were without electricity. Three hundred stranded Boy Scouts, on a camping trip in Hernando County, had to be moved to a shelter, officials said.
The next state update from the National Hurricane Center will be at 5 p.m. Monday. The state's first storm briefing came about 30 hours after sustained rains from the storm began falling on the Tampa Bay region. Of the timeliness of the state's official response, Scott said: "This is the right time to respond ... We're prepared."
-- Steve Bousquet