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Rains relieve, pummel county

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000


Way back when -- only last week, actually -- Citrus County residents were clamoring for rain to feed their parched yards and dried-up lake beds after months of drought.

Careful what you wish for.

Rain fell by the bucketful Wednesday when storms dumped as much as 2.5 inches on some areas of Citrus, flooding streets, knocking down trees and unleashing rapid-fire lightning bolts. A downed power line electrocuted 10 cows grazing near Crystal Oaks.

"It was like strobe lights going off all night," said Mac Harris, spokesman for Florida Power Corp.

The National Weather Service forecasts continuing afternoon showers across Central Florida for the next week, in what appears to be final ignition of Florida's more typical summer cycle. Rain was falling again in Inverness late Thursday afternoon for the fifth consecutive day since Sunday, and had dropped an inch of water in parts of central Citrus by 5 p.m.

Wednesday's display, however, during which sustained lightning flashes and thunder claps that let residents experience what it was like to live inside a video game, truly welcomed residents back to Florida.

As many as 6,100 Florida Power customers throughout the county lost electricity at some point during the evening, with the greatest concentration of outages coming in Crystal River. There, as many as 2,600 households and businesses lost power, some for more than three hours in an area south of Crystal River.

The two other electric providers in Citrus reported scattered outages.

Traffic lights went out along U.S. 19 and State Road 44 near Crystal River and emergency personnel checked on countless alarms where the rumble of thunder set off alarms.

Lightning was blamed for two westside brush fires Thursday afternoon, one in a marsh south of the Florida Power energy complex north of Crystal River. The other was in the Citronelle area. Both burned less than an acre. Firefighters believe lightning ignited trees that smoldered overnight and grew flames with afternoon winds.

A downed tree blocked traffic in the Meadowcrest area and several callers to 911 reported seeing tornadoes north of Crystal River, though none were confirmed, said Citrus County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Gail Tierney.

In other parts of the county, rain flooded parts of downtown Inverness, including U.S. 41 in front of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, for the second night in a row. And a lightning is believed to have struck the county's emergency operations center in Lecanto, though only momentarily knocking out power there until backup generators took over.

"It was a wild night at the Emergency Operations Center," Tierney said.

Also near Lecanto, a lightning bolt is thought to have knocked a power line free in the yard of Ernie Woods, who keeps a 47-acre cattle ranch near the entrance to Crystal Oaks.

Woods, owner of Ernest Woods Real Estate, said he keeps 30 cows if various breeds mostly as pets. He said 10 cows were electrocuted, including Smokey, the former calf from a cow Woods was given by the man who sold him the land years ago. "You can't imagine," Woods said. "They're like part of the family. My girlfriend and I are just heartsick."

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