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Monday, Jul 28, 2014
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Heavy rains turn area roads into rivers

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Published:   |   Updated: May 3, 2014 at 10:17 AM

— For 78 years, the Copeland family has owned the produce market at 30th Street and Hillsborough Avenue.

Friday was the first time the vegetables and fruits sold there drifted out on a tide of flood waters that swamped the MK Produce stand.

“There's peppers, garlic, tomatoes and cantaloupe floating by,” co-owner Connie Copeland-Joplin said.

The flash-flood came from intense thunderstorms that produced as much as 8 inches of rain Friday morning through the Tampa Bay area. The deluge swamped homes and cars, shut down roads, canceled events and forced school officials to relocate students at one water-logged facility. The American Red Cross opened a shelter at the Bible Based Fellowship Church of Temple Terrace for those displaced by floodwaters.

The National Weather Service declared a flash flood warning for several hours as storms passed through the region.

At 11:30 a.m., Tampa Electric reported 2,553 customers without power. Of those, 1,264 were customers in the Seminole Heights neighborhood. Forest Hills Elementary School lost power for more than an hour.

A power line downed by the torrential downpour backed up traffic on 30th Street. Portions of North 50th Street were under water, causing a traffic snarl that extended for at least a mile.

Tampa police reported numerous intersections with flooded vehicles, and several traffic signals were out along Busch Boulevard.

Tampa police asked followers on the department's Twitter page to tweet them photos of damage so they could respond. They also deployed a hip new hashtag to describe the dangerous rainfall: #DangerJuice.

At the University of South Florida, the campus was preparing for spring semester graduation ceremonies when the storm hit. The Fowler Avenue entrance was under water for several hours before the 1 p.m. start at the Sun Dome, and abandoned cars dotted the entrance. Cars on campus parking lots were up to their windows in water. By 2 p.m., all of the parking lots had drained.

Tanya Arja, spokesperson for the Hillsborough County school district, said a wing of Middleton High was shut down Friday morning because of several leaks in a small number of classrooms. The school is near 22nd Street and Hillsborough Avenue. The courtyard at the school also was flooded.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office reported a mail truck was half-submerged at Hanna Avenue and 53rd Street, and a bus became stuck in deep water on North Howard Avenue.

Although the strongest morning storms pounded Hillsborough County's midsection, South Tampa also took its usual soggy hit on poor-draining streets. Traffic came to a standstill around lunchtime on West Platt Street near the Hyde Park Café.

With one vehicle already stranded in knee-deep water, drivers either sat in their cars or started pulling into parking lots. A few tried to navigate adjacent alleys, only to inch out in reverse minutes later.

Dozens of people waited for the water to recede, talking to strangers or taking cell phone pictures. One group even tried hailing a ride into downtown with a UPS driver. The answer was a polite no.

Service on the TECO Line Streetcar System between Ybor City and downtown was suspended because of flooding at Sixth Avenue and Nuccio Parkway in Ybor City.

Hillsborough County made sandbags available at Sheldon Road, Old Big Bend Road and Sydney Road facilities. Tampa officials distributed sandbags at the Himes Sports Complex, the Jackson Heights Playground and City of Tampa Solid Waste on Spruce Street.

Several events were cancelled, including the Friday Extra Concert Series at the Lowry Park Bandshell.

In Pinellas County, which did not report any damage, anticipation of inclement weather Friday and Saturday caused the cancelation or rescheduling of vents. The annual Family Fun Day Festival planned for Saturday at the James B. Sanderlin Center in St. Petersburg was cancelled as was the City of Dunedin Sunset Music Series scheduled for Friday night in Weaver Park. In Clearwater on Friday morning, the 33rd Annual Police Officer Memorial was moved indoors to the Capitol Theatre.

The downpours are associated with the same cold front that brought floods to the Florida Panhandle the past two days, forecasters said. And anyone with outdoor plans today might want to reconsider. Rick Davis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin, said rain will continue in Central Florida through tonight.

The system will result in bands of rain coming in periodically, he said. And flash flooding is still a possibility.

A more typical storm going into summer would drop just one to two inches of rain, Davis said. But this kind of storm challenges the area's drainage system.

“Our slogan, so to speak, is, 'Turn around, don't drown.' Driving through standing water can actually be deadly,” he said.

Staff writer Clarisa Gerlach contributed to this report.

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