LIVE OAK, Fla. — Florida officials said Thursday that Tropical Storm Debby was responsible for seven deaths in the state.
State emergency operations spokeswoman Jessica Sims said that two people died in Pinellas County, including a 41-year-old woman caught in a riptide Wednesday at St. Pete Beach.
Storm-related deaths were also reported in Highlands — where a woman was killed by a tornado on Sunday while clutching her baby girl, who survived — as well as in Pasco, Polk, Lake and Madison counties. Last weekend, a South Carolina man also disappeared in the rough surf off the Gulf coast of Alabama.
Debby hovered in the Gulf of Mexico for days before slowly blowing across northern Florida this week and dumping more than two feet of water in some parts.
On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott traveled to some of the hardest-hit areas in Florida to survey flood damages along with disaster chief Bryan Koon and Florida National Guard Adjutant General Emmett Titshaw.
Suwannee County Sheriff Tony Cameron remembered well the last time he saw so much flooding in Live Oak and surrounding areas. He was an 11-year-old boy in Live Oak when Hurricane Dora flooded the small, north-central Florida county seat in 1964. He helped his grandfather then; this time, he doubled up as the county's emergency operations chief.
"The problem we have right now is sink holes, that's our number one problem at this time," Cameron said Thursday afternoon as he waited for a visit from Scott. "We've got a lot of roads that are still under water. There are probably 300 cars scattered around the county sitting under water."
Cameron's deputies and emergency workers had help from members of the Florida National Guard. He said about 85 people were still in shelters Thursday at the Suwannee County Agriculture Coliseum.
"My grandfather and I pumped water out of the city of Live Oak for six weeks," Cameron recalled. "We had brought all of our irrigation motors from our farm and pumped water."
Scott, whose scheduled arrival in Live Oak was delayed by a couple of hours by a lengthy Clemency Board meeting at the Capitol, told officials and some victims that he empathized with them.
"I grew up in the Midwest and the Missouri River used to flood," said Scott, who was raised in Kansas City. "You think about it as you go down and see the families who are devastated when their houses are under water. "
Scott noted that the Suwannee River has yet to crest.
"There's more to come," he said.
Scott and Koon spent more than an hour at the county's emergency operations center getting briefed on Live Oak's worst flooding since Dora before heading south to survey storm damage in Pasco County, just north of Tampa.
About 1,000 people In Pasco County remained without power Thursday. Seventy-three people and 15 pets were housed in two shelters in that county. One mobile home park that houses retirees in New Port Richey is still inundated with water; most year-round residents have evacuated.
In Hernando County, Fla., which received more than 15 inches of record-setting rain, dozens of sinkholes have opened up because of the enormous amount of water seeping into the ground.
Thursday morning, lifeguards on Clearwater Beach helped three people from the water who got caught in a rip current. On Wednesday, eight people were pulled from rip currents on St. Pete Beach, including the woman who died.
Authorities on Wednesday confirmed that a 71-year-old man was found dead in flood waters outside of his Indian Rocks Beach home after suffering a heart attack.