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Storm leaves sinkholes, flooding

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By Brenda Locklear

Sumter County residents are left with sinkholes and flooding after Tropical Storm Debby breezed up the Gulf of Mexico and across Central Florida this week.
Heavy rains began on Sunday, with two to four inches falling in different areas of the county. By Monday, creeping water had moved toward homes in low lying areas and sinkholes had opened up in two Sumter communities.
David Casto, Sumter County’s Comprehensive Emergency Management director, said one small sinkhole, about three feet had opened in Lake Panasoffkee, while four larger holes had opened in The Villages. The average hole size was between 10 feet and 20 feet, and two of the five were threats to homes. By Tuesday, another two sinkholes had opened in the development bringing the county total to seven.
Casto said one of the six sinkholes was on a golf course and he believes another was due to some type of erosion, such as a broken pipe.
Flooding concerns included the Lake Panasoffkee area, Croom-A-Coochee and a small community in Bushnell, off S.R. 48.
“The Lake Panasoffkee area received a lot of water,” he said, noting that there are also some poor drainage areas in the community.
“One home actually had several inches of water intrusion, he said.
As for the county’s road and bridge department, they spent Sunday night monitoring the water situation, working with engineers to see if they could reroute some of the water.
Emergency Management did a life safety check to make sure residents were okay.
Earlier in the week, a flood warning had been issued for the Withlacoochee River in Croom-A-Coochee, but that was cancelled when rainfall levels were lower than expected on Monday and Tuesday, according to NOAA meteorologist Tom Dougherty.
But even with the river threat cancelled, residents had to deal with local street flooding and winds between 30 and 40 miles per hour.
The  storm track changed throughout the week, eventually curling into Central Florida and making landfall near the Gainesville/Suwannee River area, while weather warnings that ranged from tornado and flood warnings, to high wind advisories played out for days.
When the landfall began and the weather began to alternate between cloudy and gusty and sunny, Casto said, “I think the worst is over.”
But he did have a suggestion for local residents, urging them to gather information on storms and other disasters now. He said his department received come calls late on Sunday night from people “Wanting to know the difference between watches and warnings.”
They’re not able to respond to those type questions when dealing with damage and assisting people in disaster situations. He urges residents to take the time now, when there is no threat, to learn the terminology. He said the information can be found on their website or at floridadisaster.org
He also urges residents to obtain and use a weather radio.
Sumter Electric spokesman Barry Bowman said SECO “faired pretty well,” through the storm. They had a total of 7,000 customers in Sumterville and The Villages without power at some point. Their average restoration time was just over an hour and a half.
Bowman said they dealt with far fewer problems than in the past, attributing the change to an “aggressive tree trimming program” that has been under way for the past five years.
As for Progress Energy, 49 of their 7,000 customers lost power at some point during the storm.