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Debby weakens, but hard-hit Live Oak still reeling
CNHI News Service
LIVE OAK, Fla. - Residents in this north Florida town hit hard by Debby slogged through knee-high flood waters Wednesday in an attempt to recover from the tropical storm.
The recovery effort occurred under sunny, clear skies but the damage left by the storm was expected to run into the thousands, perhaps even millions, of dollars.
Debby arrived Monday night, dropping 16 inches of rain in 24 hours, overwhelming the town's retention ponds and drainage system.
The National Weather Service said the relentless rain was the most experienced locally since 1964's Hurricane Dora.
The deluge flooded scores of homes and businesses in the town of 6,500, caused widespread power outages, washed out streets and highways, and opened sinkholes -- one of which measured 40-feet wide by 40-feet deep. About 75 evacuees spent the night at an emergency shelter.
Local officials urged residents to boil their water before drinking, fearing sewerage has seeped into the ground water supply.
The Weather Service downgraded Debby from a tropical storm to a tropical depression Tuesday night as it moved eastward toward Florida's Atlantic Coast.
But that meant little to the folks in Live Oak. They got the brunt of the storm and the aftermath created a mess that could take weeks to clean up.
Several streets were blocked off by school buses. Highways serving Live Oak -- U.S. 129, U.S. 90 and Interstate 10 -- were closed due to high water in low-lying areas.
Meterologist Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel reported live from Live Oak, showing stranded cars and local residents walking knee-deep through the storm water. People gathered at bars and restaurants to watch his reports.
The 16 inches of rain in 24 hours was exceeded only by the 18.62 inches in four days in 1964 when Hurricane Dora swept through the town.
Other towns in the area were also coping with severe flooding. Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center in White Springs, Fla., a popular tourist attraction, was among several places shut down.
White Springs is 30 miles east of Live Oak. Both share the heritage of the Suwannee River, made famous by Stephen Foster in his classic song, "Old Folks at Home."
A roadway sign at the river crossing notes the Stephen Foster song, and repeats the first line from it: "Way down upon the Swanee River..." A 97-bell carillon at the culture center state park plays Foster's music throughout the day.
Ironically, Foster never saw the river he made famous in song, as witnessed by his misspelling of the river's name in the lyrics.
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