After lashing Pasco County for most of the day Sunday, Tropical Storm Frances damaged mobile homes, toppled trees and left roughly 52,000 people without power.
The winds grew so severe around noon that officials pulled fire and rescue crews from the roads, fearing the high gusts could tip over the large ambulances or firetrucks. Until Sunday evening, crews responded only to life-threatening emergencies after evaluating conditions on a case-by-case basis.
By midafternoon, fire and rescue crews in Zephyrhills reported 60 mph sustained winds, with gusts reaching 70 mph.
Officials reported no injuries from the storm. Most of the residents who lost power were destined to spend the day in the dark, as high winds made it too dangerous for power crews to immediately fix the damage.
City officials in Dade City and Zephyrhills enacted a dusk-to-dawn curfew until power could be restored.
"With the power lines down and the trees down, it's not safe for the citizens to be driving around," said Michele Baker, the county's director of Emergency Management.
With the power outages decreasing water pressure in its utility system, county officials are issuing a precautionary boil water notice for customers in the following areas: Forest Hills in Holiday; Trilby; Lacoochee; Hillcrest Manor; Trilacoochee; the Dade City neighborhoods of The Ponds, The Groves and Cambridge Clark; and Pasadena Shores.
The shelters at Zephyrhills High School, Lacoochee Elementary School and Pine View Elementary relied on generators after the power went out. The 183 people at the Lacoochee shelter collected rainwater to flush the toilets because the water pumps could not work without electricity.
The Land O'Lakes jail also relied on generators.
Residents had no choice but to wait out the slow-plodding storm.
"A lot of the calls now are comfort-type calls," said Stephen Kershner, an assistant library director who answered phones at the county's resident information center.
The powerful winds of Frances' outer bands damaged several mobile homes in Aloha Gardens and the surrounding Holiday neighborhoods, Baker said. County officials began making arrangements Sunday evening to set up longer term shelters at churches or community centers for residents in need.
"There will be some people who need some place to live for a little while," Baker said.
Officials reported at least 40 downed trees or tree limbs in Dade City and several damaged buildings. In New Port Richey, some patients at HCA Community Hospital had to be moved from the third floor to the second floor after the storm damaged the roof.
But on the whole, Baker said, the county emerged better than expected. East Pasco saw only 4 inches of rain, and the roughest part of the storm appeared to pass south of Pasco, she said.
"The storm moved a little quicker and seems to have fallen apart," Baker said.
With the tail end of Frances passing through Pasco County today, the storm could spawn tornadoes, Baker said. But experts predict only a 2-foot storm surge as the storm moves through the Gulf of Mexico this morning.
"It's up on the sea walls, it's kind of splashing in the back yard, but it's not a problem," Baker said.
Officials had ordered mandatory evacuations Saturday for the county's 125,700 mobile home residents. They also urged residents in flood-prone areas to seek higher ground.
By Sunday afternoon, 3,851 residents were in county-run shelters. One New Port Richey refuge, Chasco Elementary School, was filled to capacity.
Baker asked residents to stay put Sunday evening as emergency crews, road workers and utility crews began to survey the damage. As soon as daylight breaks, Baker said, workers will start clearing debris and removing downed power lines.
"It's important that emergency crews be able to focus and we don't want you driving on downed power lines," Baker said.
The crews will start along the major roads, including the routes to fire stations and hospitals, before reaching neighborhood streets, she said.
Officials began preparing a warehouse to receive "push packs" - rations of water, ice and ready-to-eat meals for residents affected by the storm. The packs would come from the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, but Pasco officials would only distribute them if residents needed them.
Meanwhile, the Hudson High vs. River Ridge football game has been rescheduled to 6 p.m. today. It had been scheduled for 10 a.m.
Bridget Hall Grumet covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is email@example.com