As Erika weakens, some in Tampa Bay area are still worried

As Erika weakens, some in Tampa Bay area are still worried

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Tropical Storm Erika dissipated Saturday, but folks in the Tampa Bay area are watching it carefully.

The 9 a.m. forecast from the National Hurricane Center showed the storm had degenerated into a trough of low pressure by early Saturday after mountains and an unfavorable environment in Hispaniola knocked Erika below tropical storm force.

It appeared that it would bypass drought-stricken South Florida entirely. But emergency managers in the Tampa Bay area are still worried about heavy rain.

"Our aquifers are full. There's no more areas for the water to percolate to," said Ed Caum, a spokesman for Pasco County's emergency operations center.

Even a moderate rainstorm isn't welcome here. The ground, rivers and lakes are already waterlogged from recent storms.

"That's the problem," said Daniel Noah, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Ruskin, not far from Tampa. "We have many rivers in the Tampa Bay area are in minor flood stage. Any heavy rainfall from Erika is going to aggravate that situation with rivers going into moderate flood stage. And if, heaven forbid, Erika decides to slow down, we could see some rivers go into major flood."

So far, no evacuations have been ordered, but officials are clearing storm drains of debris, doing maintenance on stormwater pumps and urging residents to gather extra food, water and medicines, just in case flooding happens.

Some parts of Pasco County — a suburban area north of downtown Tampa — received 28 inches of rain over a 10-day period in July and August.

One business, SpinNations Skating Center in Port Richey, had a half-million dollars of damage because of floods. The owners just started nailing down a new floor this week when Erika's forecast shifted to be a rain event -- hitting the Port Richey area again.

FEMA is still performing damage assessments there, and a few dozen homes were destroyed by flooding.

Meanwhile, officials aren't taking any chances. Several counties around the state opened sandbag filling stations for residents worried about flooding.

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