Gov. declares emergency; Officials inspect damage as Tropical Storm Debby churns in Gulf

Maura Kraus, an environmentalist from the Collier County Sea Turtle Protection Program, records information from sea turtle nest 58 while Scott Aldrich, a volunteer with the Collier County Parks & Recreation, looks on, Monday, June 25, 2012, at Naples Beach in Naples. Recent storm conditions from Tropical Storm Debby has threatened the habitat of sea turtle eggs along the South West Florida coastline. Today the protection organization was marking and documenting the results of the nests.

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Maura Kraus, an environmentalist from the Collier County Sea Turtle Protection Program, records information from sea turtle nest 58 while Scott Aldrich, a volunteer with the Collier County Parks & Recreation, looks on, Monday, June 25, 2012, at Naples Beach in Naples. Recent storm conditions from Tropical Storm Debby has threatened the habitat of sea turtle eggs along the South West Florida coastline. Today the protection organization was marking and documenting the results of the nests.

Tropical Storm Debby is forecast to be a Florida resident for the rest of the work week. The storm is on path to cross the Gulf and northern Florida until it winds up in the Atlantic Ocean off Jacksonville on Friday.

NOAA

Tropical Storm Debby is forecast to be a Florida resident for the rest of the work week. The storm is on path to cross the Gulf and northern Florida until it winds up in the Atlantic Ocean off Jacksonville on Friday.

At 8 p.m. EDT Monday, Tropical Storm Debby was nearly stationary in the Gulf, moving only about 4 mph east toward the Florida Panhandle.

NOAA

At 8 p.m. EDT Monday, Tropical Storm Debby was nearly stationary in the Gulf, moving only about 4 mph east toward the Florida Panhandle.

Video from NBC-2

Collier County and Naples city workers performed damage control Monday after Tropical Storm Debby upturned catamarans, downed trees and drowned sea turtle nests along the Gulf over the weekend.

At least 100 of an estimated 800 sea turtle nests in the county were likely lost in the high tides following the storm, which brought heavy rains across the state.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a statewide emergency Monday for most of the Gulf Coast. At least one person was killed over the weekend by a twister in Florida, and crews in Alabama searched for a man who disappeared in rough surf Sunday.

"If there's any standing water, if there's any flooding, don't drive into it," Scott said.

NBC-2 Meterologist Robert Van Winkle said the next two to three days will bring more of the same winds and waves to Southwest Florida, though Tropical Storm Debby is not expected to intensify here. The Naples area received one to two inches of rain Monday but areas north of the Caloosahatchee River received three to five, Van Winkle said.

With overcast skies and winds as high as 50 mph, Maura Kraus, an environmental specialist with the county's Sea Turtle Protection Program, cruised the beach on the back of an All-Terrain Vehicle with volunteer Scott Aldrich. They counted intact nests and surrounded them with caution tape and 'do not disturb' signs.

"We were having a real record year for turtle nesting and to have something like this come is tragic," Kraus said. "There's nothing we can do."

"Can't fight Mother Nature," Aldrich said.

Kraus said she won't have an exact count of nests lost for a few days. High tide prevented her and Aldrich from canvassing the entire shore where visitors and residents were drawn to uncharacteristically rough waves and strong winds.

"I've never seen it this high," said Collier resident Jeff Greiner, 66. "This is the Gulf. It can get pretty rough because it's shallow."

Naples Harbor Master Roger Jacobsen monitored the Naples Pier Monday should it need to be closed for safety. He said the city has closed it a few times in the last few years when storms threatened visitors.

"It's swim at your own risk," Jacobsen said. "We're not known for rip tides here, but a day like today changes that."

Jacobsen also visited two flipped catamarans sitting in sea oats and dune. The owners will have to upright their vessels. A few downed trees and scattered palms dotted Gulf Shore Boulevard.

In Lee County, high tides prevented Eve Haverfield, director of Turtle Time Inc., from checking on all 127 seat turtle nests along Bonita Beach, Fort Myers Beach and Bunche Beach that the nonprofit monitors. Haverfield won't have a total count for nests lost for a few days.

Eggs can withstand submersion for short periods of time, but Haverfield said studies estimate more than a few hours of total submersion begins to threaten the embryos, which are porous and allow water in.

"This one is more serious than I've ever seen," Haverfield said of the storm. "We have an inordinately high tide, ferocious winds. It's carnage out there."

Forecasters predicted Debby could dump another six to 12 inches in North Florida, four to eight inches in Central Florida and three to five inches in South Florida before it creeps ashore somewhere south of Tallahassee, possibly by Wednesday.

On the positive side, Debby was disorganized and growing weaker. Dry air was swirling into the core and wind shear shredded its rotating storm bands. It also had been stalled so long it was churning up cooler ocean waters, further sapping its power.

"You put those three together and this thing is not going to strengthen any further," said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the hurricane center in West Miami-Dade.

Forecasters had struggled with predicting Debby's track, shifting its path since Friday from Texas to Louisiana to the Panhandle to the Big Bend area in Florida.

High winds forced the closure of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge that spans Tampa Bay and links St. Petersburg with areas to the southeast. In several locations, homes and businesses were damaged by high winds authorities believe were from tornadoes.

The constant barrage of wind and rain triggered fears of the widespread flooding that occurred across the Florida Panhandle during Hurricane Dennis in 2005.

With Debby rudderless in atmospheric doldrums — stuck between another low-pressure system to the south in Gulf and the jet stream and massive high-pressure system to the north — computer models sharply disagreed on its direction. The center had more confidence in the latest tracks but there was still uncertainty over whether it would continue at its snail pace or pick up speed.

"Tropical cyclones don't move themselves," Feltgen said. "They're steered by the weather patterns around them. It's been in kind of a neutral zone."

The Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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