LIVE OAK, Fla. — Florida officials said Thursday that Tropical Storm Debby was responsible for seven deaths in the state.
State emergency operations spokeswoman Jessica Sims said that two people died in Pinellas County, including a 41-year-old woman caught in a riptide Wednesday at St. Pete Beach.
She was among eight people pulled from rip currents on St. Pete Beach on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, lifeguards on Clearwater Beach helped three people from the water who got caught in a rip current.
Storm-related deaths were also reported in Highlands, Pasco, Polk, Lake and Madison counties. They include a Highlands County woman who died in a tornado spawned by the storm on Sunday, as well as a 71-year-old man who suffered a heart attack and was found dead in flood waters outside his Indian Rocks Beach home in Pinellas County.
In addition, a South Carolina man disappeared Sunday off Alabama’s Orange Beach in rough waters churned up by the storm.
Authorities said Wednesday they had suspended a five-day-old search for a 32-year-old Eric Pye of Summerville, S.C., after dozens of searchers using boats and sonar had failed to locate him.
The Orange Beach safety director, Melvin Shephard, told The Associated Press that accounts indicate Pye was wading near the beach’s edge Sunday when the backwash of a large wave dragged him into the Gulf of Mexico. Debby was churning up 8- to 10-foot waves there at the time, he added.
Debby hovered in the Gulf of Mexico for days before slowly blowing across northern Florida this week; the storm dumped more than two feet of water in some parts.
On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott traveled to some of the hardest-hit areas in Florida to survey flood damages. He told officials and some victims that he empathized with them.
“I grew up in the Midwest and the Missouri River used to flood,” said Scott, who was raised in Kansas City. “You think about it as you go down and see the families who are devastated when their houses are under water.”
Scott noted that the Suwannee River has yet to crest.
“There’s more to come,” he said.
Suwannee County Sheriff Tony Cameron said he hadn’t seen so much flooding in Live Oak and surrounding areas since 1964, when he was 11 and Hurricane Dora flooded the small, north-central Florida community. Then, he helped his grandfather pump water out of the city.
“The problem we have right now is sink holes, that’s our number one problem at this time,” Cameron said Thursday afternoon. “We’ve got a lot of roads that are still under water. There are probably 300 cars scattered around the county sitting under water.”
More than 150 people remained in shelters in Suwannee and Pasco counties on Thursday.
Associated Press writer Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.