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Swollen rivers recede as rain takes brief respite

Six area rivers remained under flood warnings Monday as forecasters warned of more rain soon.

Published June 24, 2003

[Times photo: Stefanie Boyar]
Mark Stukey of Ray's Canoe Hideaway empties bait containers into the Upper Manatee River on Monday afternoon after heavy rains flooded his boathouse with several feet of water.

After a week of unrelenting rain, Tampa Bay is finally getting a break from flooding and gray skies.

But it won't last long. More showers are in store for what is becoming one of the wettest Junes in history.

Heavy rains in west central Florida have caused rivers to surge above flood level and left some roads impassable.

More than 35 homes were flooded after a levee broke along the Myakka River in Sarasota County. In Hillsborough County, the Alafia River hit 17 feet Monday, 5 feet above flood level. Flash flood warnings were still in effect Monday for the Manatee, Little Manatee, Peace, Alafia, Myakka and Anclote rivers.

"Some of the rivers take days to react to rain that falls upstream," said Frank Alsheimer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin. "It can take quite awhile for the flood wave to move down river."

Today and Wednesday should be partly sunny with temperatures in the 90s. The weekend is expected to be wet, with up to a 40 percent chance of rain Saturday and Sunday.

Forecasters say this is shaping up to be one of the wettest Junes in history. Tampa International Airport has received 11.20 inches this month, about 2 inches shy of the all-time record for June, 13.35 inches in 1975.

On Monday, relieved residents along the bulging Manatee River watched the waters swiftly receed, while 20 miles south, the Myakka River sliced through 35 to 40 homes after a levee broke.

The levee was privately maintained by homeowners in the Hidden Creek subdivision in eastern Sarasota County. It failed as homeowners were trying to reinforce it with sandbags.

A voluntary evacuation notice was issued for the area, and the Red Cross was assisting the families and moving those who wanted assistance to a shelter.

Along the Manatee River, where a dam's jammed gate Sunday had aggravated flooding, residents were drying out and cleaning up Monday.

Mark Stukey's large freezer no longer bobbed against the glass pane of his simple boathouse as it had during the river's record-breaking high Sunday night, when the waters topped 20 feet. And for that, Stukey was grateful.

"We were watching from the windows," he said.

Back-breaking cleanup work awaited him, yes, but Stukey was cheerful that the untamed river didn't sweep away his plywood shack altogether, where he earned a living renting kayaks and canoes. Best of all, the river that had climbed the soft knoll to his concrete house stopped 30 feet from his back door.

"We're just so happy it didn't get to the house," said his wife Laura, trying to sweep up wet mud, though she did little more than leave brown puddles and streaks across the concrete floor.

The flooding has closed some roads and bridges.

The Rye Bridge, leading to the dam in the Manatee River, remained closed to all but a handful of local residents Monday.

A stream of cars drove up to the barricades, said Michael Zampella, a Myakka City employee charged with keeping curious spectators from trying to get a better view of the churning river.

"This is more action than in New York," said Zampella, turning away an angry driver in a red pickup.

Rick Wheeler, who owns a two-story house on stilts on the Manatee River, had plenty of action of another sort. He and his neighbors spent 10 hours Sunday removing everything from lumber to bikes from his garage, before the river could wash it away.

He, too, was in a state of relief that the Upper Manatee had swelled only 31/2 feet beneath his floorboards.

"I'm kind of glad this happened," said Wheeler, his wrap-around porch crammed with contents from his garage. "That was the worst-case scenario except for a virtual dam failure," he said.

- Staff writer Leanora Minai contributed to this report, which also included information from the Associated Press.

[Last modified June 24, 2003, 01:47:56]

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