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Hurricane Dennis

Windy and watery, but that's it

Reports of flooding and power outages, but no major damage, come in as Dennis passes on its way to batter the Panhandle.

Published July 11, 2005

[Times photo: James Borchuck]
St. Pete Beach: Michael and Ashlea Davis canoe down the 3600 block of Casablanca Avenue on Sunday.

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As Dennis poured its fury on the Gulf Coast Sunday, Tampa Bay area residents slogged through a rainy day of power outages, wind gusts, water-doused bridges and scattered street flooding.

Water, water and more water appeared to be the biggest worry, or joy, depending on whom you asked.

In Tarpon Springs, water stood a half-foot deep in some intersections near the Sponge Docks. Bertha Houllis, 83, worried whether high tide would push water into her store, Mama Pappas Gift Shop.

"I'm so tired of these hurricanes," she said.

The eye of the hurricane passed parallel to west-central Florida in the morning hours Sunday, but it left intermittent bursts of rain and wind gusts reaching up to 50 mph in some locations.

No injuries or major damages were reported in the bay area.

Throughout the day Sunday, weather conditions gradually improved as the hurricane moved farther north. Forecasters said today should bring cloudy skies and decreasing bouts of rain and wind.

About 46,000 residents - most of them in Pinellas County - lost power over the weekend. Most, however, had their electricity restored by the afternoon.

A 44-year-old Tampa man heading north on Interstate 275 drove his Toyota Tacoma through a chain-link fence on the Howard Frankland Bridge into the bay after a gust of wind caused him to lose control. As the truck sank, he climbed out through a door and swam to shore.

Flooding was commonplace in many coastal communities. By morning, St. Petersburg's Shore Acres neighborhood resembled the canals of Venice, Italy. In some places, roads looked more like rivers with more than 2 feet of water.

On 40th Avenue NE, police officers stopped compact and midsize cars entering the area, advising drivers to turn back. About a half-dozen cars ignored their warning and stalled in the water, said St. Petersburg police Sgt. Keith Glasgow. "We've had everything from a Hyundai to Mercedes get stuck," he said.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker toured the city Sunday, reviewing some of the scattered flooding, but had no reports of any actual damage to the inside of homes.

"Generally, we fared better than we fared during the storms last year," he said. "We have been highly blessed."

A group of the city's firefighters, part of an urban search and rescue team, left early Sunday to help out in the Panhandle, Baker said. The firefighters also helped out in Pensacola after Ivan and in Port Charlotte after Charley.

In Clearwater Sunday, die-hard beach lovers braved the rain, wind and flooding, despite red flags signaling a dangerous surf. Half of a parking lot closest to the beach was under water.

Courtney Huenink decided to spend the day surfing.

"This is the one day of good surf on the west coast the whole year," said Huenink, "unless we have more hurricanes."

In Tampa, police closed Bayshore Boulevard from W Swann Avenue to S Rome Avenue about 9:30 a.m. Sunday because of flooding. Water from Hillsborough Bay splashed over the sea wall and covered the street, stopping at the sidewalk curb in front of homes.

The boulevard was reopened by early evening.

Closer to downtown Tampa, the Hillsborough River overflowed its banks and flooded the park near the Sticks of Fire monument at the University of Tampa.

Pasco County, like the rest of the North Suncoast, largely escaped significant damage from Dennis. The big worry Sunday was high tide, which peaked about 3:30 p.m.

"The surge came in. It just came up all of a sudden and we thought we might have enough coming to create some problems, but it looks like it's going to stabilize," said Jim Johnston, emergency management coordinator.

In Citrus County, water stood in some low-lying areas after the area saw between 4 and 8 inches of rain, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Gail Tierney said.

Many people tried to make the best of a rain-soaked day.

Back at Houllis' gift shop in Tarpon Springs, tourists Pat and Bob Wiehe of Indianapolis wandered in, looking for some local color and lunch in one of the docks' Greek restaurants.

"We could have picked a better week to come," said Pat Wiehe, 57, a registered nurse. "It makes for an interesting trip."

--Times staff writers Richard Danielson, Molly Moorhead, Grace Cheng and Shawntaye Hopkins contributed to this report.

[Last modified July 11, 2005, 07:42:01]

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