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Tropical Storm Debby Saturates Florida, Extreme Heat Fans Fires in Colorado

June 26, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Tropical storm "Debby" has been unrelenting, flooding thoroughfares and neighborhoods and spawning tornadoes. Meanwhile, wildfires are burning in more than 25 locations. Seven of those fires are in Colorado, which is currently in the grip of a record drought.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Natural disasters dominated this day for many Americans, from flooding in Florida to wildfires in the West. 

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our report. 

KWAME HOLMAN: The rain in Florida just keeps falling and falling and falling. For three days, Tropical Storm Debby has been unrelenting in soaking the state, flooding entire thoroughfares and neighborhoods. 

MAN: I never thought the same road I would drive on every day, we’d be paddling up and down it. 

KWAME HOLMAN: After forming in the Gulf, the storm stalled, barely inching northeast.  Landfall finally came late this afternoon, but the rain will not stop any time soon.  Already, the worst-hit areas have gotten 26 inches.  And the slow, steady drenching has saturated ground up and down Florida, opening massive sinkholes and felling trees. 

ALVIN BROWN, mayor of Jacksonville, Florida: Saturation of a lot of water, it’s going to impact trees, so we’re trying to make sure the drainage are cleared out and the water goes to where it needs to be. 

KWAME HOLMAN: Any number of towns and cities face the same problem.  As this NASA image shows, the entire state is under Debby’s rain bands.  Beyond the rain, the storm has spawned tornadoes.  In this subdivision outside Winter Haven, Fla., neighbors checked in on each other. 

WOMAN: Hi. I’m alive. 

MAN: Are you OK? 

WOMAN: Yes, I’m fine, thank you. 

MAN: It was just a straight line. It was just — and literally that fast.  It was over in like 10 seconds. 

KWAME HOLMAN:  And, yesterday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott proclaimed an emergency for the entire state. 

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), Florida: We declared a state of emergency so we can coordinate the use of all state resources to make sure that we can respond promptly if anything happens. 

KWAME HOLMAN: Out West, the trouble is not even rain. Large wildfires are burning in more than 25 locations. Seven of those are in Colorado, currently in the grip of a record drought. 

Making the fight even tougher, extreme temperatures. In Denver, it’s gone over 100 degrees every day in the past week. 

Beth Lund, the incident commander at the High Park fire near Fort Collins, says the record heat is just one more challenge. 

BETH LUND, fire incident commander: It’s difficult for the firefighters to work in. They have got to stay hydrated. It hasn’t been a huge increase, but we have had a little tiny increase in humidity kind of having — coming out of those single digits a little bit and a little bit better humidity recovery at night. 

KWAME HOLMAN: Many of the fires were sparked by lightning strikes, but Col. Gov. John Hickenlooper had this warning for arsonists today.  

GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), Colorado: If there is some fool out there that’s so absurd, so — such a lunatic to be starting fires in this kind of a drought, they can be guaranteed we will throw everything, everything but the kitchen sink at them in court. 

KWAME HOLMAN: The fires have forced large-scale evacuations, including thousands who fled the Waldo Canyon blaze near Pike’s Peak. 

WOMAN: But it’s been stressful. We have been watching the news.  We have been waiting to hear that our house is gone.  And it’s difficult. 

KWAME HOLMAN: So far, 257 homes have been destroyed in the Colorado fires alone.