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Slow-moving Tropical Storm Debby drenches Florida, spawns tornadoes

Updated at 3:33 p.m. ET -- Tropical Storm Debby whipped Florida with bands of drenching rain Monday while its center was nearly stationary in the Gulf of Mexico. Its slow progress meant the most pressing threat from the storm was flooding, not wind.

The governor declared a statewide emergency, and a tropical storm warning was in effect for most of Florida's Gulf coast, as the storm parked offshore. A tropical storm warning for the coast of Alabama was discontinued early Monday. Yet even with the storm's center far from land, it lashed Florida with heavy rains and spawned isolated tornadoes that killed at least one person. Another person was missing in rough surf off Alabama.

Residents in several counties near the crook of Florida's elbow were urged to leave low-lying neighborhoods because of the threat of flooding. The storm is moving slowly, allowing its clouds more time to unload rain.

The Coast Guard rescued a family Sunday, who were stranded on a small island on the northwestern Florida Gulf coast due to inclement weather caused by the storm.

Officials at the Coast Guard watch center in Mobile, Ala., received a call around 12:30 p.m. from a man reporting his family of five adults, four children and two dogs were stranded in a vacation house on Dog Island, south of Carrabelle, Fla.

Water was reportedly surrounding the house, and there was no way for them to evacuate to higher ground. The ship that brought them to the island would not return for them due to rough conditions.

Rescue crews from the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center deployed a helicopter to the family’s location. The crew hoisted and transported the family, including the dogs, to Carrabelle Airport. No injuries or medical concerns were reported. 

'Heavy rain'
High winds forced the closure of an interstate bridge that spans Tampa Bay and links St. Petersburg with areas to the southeast. In several locations, homes and businesses were damaged by high winds authorities believe were from tornadoes.

"Locally heavy rain and flooding will impact much of Florida and southeast Georgia into Monday," weather.com reported. "Portions of northern Florida and southeast Georgia could see 6 to 12 inches of rain."

Weather.com severe weather expert Dr. Greg Forbes warned that Debby could spawn isolated tornadoes in Florida through Monday. 

Tropical storm warnings and watches were posted along portions of the Alabama and Florida Gulf Coasts. "Tropical-storm force winds (40 mph or higher) are possible in these areas," weather.com added. "Storm surge flooding is also a significant threat along the Florida Panhandle coast and the western coast of Florida since Debby's circulation is embedded in a rather large wind field."

Debby's center was essentially stationary about 90 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, Fla., early Monday. Debby's top sustained winds decreased to near 50 mph. The forecast map indicated the storm could inch forward through the week, eventually coming ashore over the Panhandle. However, a storm's path is difficult to discern days in advance.

Underscoring the unpredictable nature of tropical storms, forecasters discontinued a tropical storm warning Sunday afternoon for Louisiana after forecast models indicated Debby wasn't likely to turn west. At one point, forecasters expected the storm to come ashore in that state.

"There are always going to be errors in making predictions. There is never going to be a perfect forecast," said Chris Landsea, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center.

The Highlands County Sheriff's Office said in a news release that several tornadoes moved through the area southeast of Tampa, damaging homes.

Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Nell Hays said a woman was found dead in a house in Venus that was destroyed in the storm. A child found in the same house was taken to the hospital. No further information was available on the child's condition or either person's age.

Marina's roof torn off
Authorities urged residents to leave low-lying neighborhoods in Franklin, Taylor and Wakulla counties because of flooding. Shelters were open in the area.

Wind tore the roof off a marina in St. Pete Beach, and a pier was heavily damaged, said Tom Iovino, a Pinellas County government spokesman. He said no injuries were reported.

In Orange Beach, Ala., a 32-year-old man disappeared Sunday in rough surf kicked up by the storm, a Coast Guard official said. Further information wasn't immediately available.

As of Sunday, 23 percent of oil and gas production in the region had been suspended, according to a government hurricane response team. Employees have been evacuated from 13 drilling rigs and 61 production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The storm was not expected to result in higher oil and gas prices.

"It's largely a non-event for oil," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.

Weather.com, msnbc.com staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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