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River flooding a concern in Hillsborough County after Irma

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said that while storm surge was the biggest concern of government officials in the Tampa Bay area as Hurricane Irma approached on Sunday, it is now flooding that may be the primary concern.

“With the rainfall, we are going to see some inland river flooding,” Merrill said Monday morning while speaking at the Hillsborough County Emergency Operation Center in East Tampa,

The National Weather Service reported Monday morning that there was actually a negative storm surge (of one foot).

There were extensive reports of downed trees and power lines, with much of that in the eastern part of the county, said Hillsborough Fire Chief Dennis Jones. He said staffers with Fire Rescue and Public Works had not completed assessments of the damage done overnight so it would be best if people remained off the streets.

Jones did say that early assessments show that at least 12 homes have been destroyed because of falling trees, which he said was a “small number.” There have been no fatalities.

Although the approximately six-to-nine inches of rain that hit Hillsborough County Sunday night and Monday morning from Hurricane Irma was more modest than expected, there are still concerns about rising levels in some rivers.

Preston Cook, the director of emergency management for the county, predicted the possibility of record levels for the Hillsborough River and Cypress Creek Preserve.

The current record for the Hillsborough River is 15 feet, three inches. Cook says it could go up to 15.6.

The record for Cypress Creek is 14 feet, four inches. The previous record of 13.8.

Cook also said the Little Manatee River could go as high as 18 feet over the next day or two.

Merrill emphasized that the most important thing for county residents was to stay inside.

There are approximately 300,000 people who rely on Tampa Electric who are without power early Monday. That’s forty percent of the public utility’s customer base, said spokesperson Cherie Jacobs. 

There are more than 29,000 people who stayed in Hillsborough County shelters. They will begin leaving those shelters today, though Merrill said that they could stay longer if their homes were damaged.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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