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Tropical storm Debby: Flooding forces I-10 closure in Florida (+video)

The Florida Highway Patrol closed portions of Interstate 10 (I-10) in north Florida early Tuesday due to flooding caused by tropical storm Debby. Troopers reported several areas of flooding on a roughly 50-mile stretch of the east-west interstate east of where it crosses I-75.

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Alabama authorities searched for a man who disappeared in the rough surf.

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An estimated 35,000 homes and businesses lost electricity. Progress Energy reported that as of 4 p.m. Monday, about 18,900 were still without power.

The bridge leading to St. George Island, a vacation spot along the Panhandle, was closed to everyone except residents, renters and business owners to keep looters out. The island had no power, and palm trees had been blown down, but roads were passable.

"Most true islanders are hanging in there because they know that you may or may not be able to get back to your home when you need to," said David Walker, an island resident having a beer at Eddy Teach's bar. He said he had been through many storms on the island and Debby was on the weaker end of the scale.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a statewide emergency, allowing authorities to put laws against price-gouging into effect and override bureaucratic hurdles to deal with the storm.

A tropical storm warning remained in effect Tuesday morning for about 450 miles of coastline, from Mexico Beach in the Panhandle to Englewood, south of Sarasota.

Forecasters cautioned that Debby is a large tropical cyclone spreading strong winds and heavy rains at great distances from its center.

They said it would crawl generally east, come ashore along Florida's northwestern coast Wednesday night and track slowly across the state, exiting along the Atlantic Coast by Friday and losing steam as it crosses land.

"We're not expecting the storm to intensify," said Ernie Jillson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Tampa, early Tuesday. "We're expecting it to stay a fairly weak tropical storm."

People in several sparsely populated counties near the crook of Florida's elbow were urged to leave low-lying neighborhoods because of the danger of flooding. Shelters opened in some places.

On St. Pete Beach in the Tampa Bay area, surfers enjoyed the large waves in the Gulf, which is usually so calm the water looks like glass. Residents cleaned up debris in yards and streets from a possible tornado Sunday.

"The wind picked up so bad. It's very, very scary. I ran into the closet underneath the hallway stairs," said Ann Garrison, who has lived on the barrier island for 20 years but has never seen such strong winds. She said that when she came back out after just a few minutes, "the fence was gone, and it was in the middle of the yard."

Nearby, a likely tornado ripped the roof off a marina and an apartment complex and knocked down fences, trees and signs.

IN PICTURES: Extreme weather 2012

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Lush contributed from St. Petersburg. Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro and Christine Armario in Miami; Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Fla.; and AP Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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