Tropical Storm Debby has proven to be a major soaker for Central Florida. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
WINTER HAVEN – Tropical Storm Debby has brought an entire weekend full of soaking rains to Central Florida, downpurs that are continuing today.
But for one Polk County city, the storm got deadly when it caused a tornado to strike a dangerous path.
In response to the weather, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office set up a mobile command station in the Gold’s Gym parking lot at Cypress Gardens Boulevard and Cypress Gardens Road in Winter Haven, said Carrie Eleazor, public information officer for the sheriff’s office. The mobile command station was set up throughout the evening on Sunday, to assist Polk County Emergency Management with reports of a tornado in the area.
“We were pretty much responding from the mobile command,” Eleazor said on Monday morning. “Now we’re pretty much back to normal.”
The tornado struck around 8 p.m. on Sunday. The most serious incident related to the storm was a three-car accident that left one person dead.
It happened around 6:40 p.m. on Sunday, when a gray 1994 Honda Accord being driven southbound on Lake Shipp Drive near the intersection with Ridge Avenue hit a wet spot on the road. The 23-year-old driver, Enrique Martinez Salgado of Wahneta, lost control of his vehicle.
Sitting in the front passenger’s seat was 21-year-old Maria Isabel Barajas, also of Wahneta.
The Honda rotated, crossed the center line, and struck a white 2000 Saturn being driven northbound on Lake Shipp Drive by Christina Dowdey, 39, of Winter Haven.
A silver 2012 Toyota on Lake Shipp Drive was unable to stop in time and collided with the Saturn. The Toyota was being driven by 21-year-old Christina Guarino of Auburndale.
Barajas suffered severe injuries from the crash and died en route to the hospital. The remaining drivers and passengers were transported to Winter Haven Hospital, where they were either treated and released or are reported to be in good condition as of this morning.
The crash had a major impact on traffic in that area. Lake Shipp Drive was closed in both directions for four hours on Sunday night.
Eleazor said it doesn’t appear that any of the drivers was impaired in any way, except by the weather. The crash looks to have been caused by standing water on the roadway.
The tornado also caused damage along Putter Circle South, where eight to 12 mobile homes got hit, leaving at least two with major damage. Although no injuries were reported, the Fire Department responded and had to cut off the power to the most seriously damaged homes.
On Johnson Avenue East in Winter Haven, the tornado caused damage to kitchen window area of a home and some minor damage to the framing, while at another home on Johnson Avenue, the roof got hit. No injuries were reported at either home.
Ten houses got hit at Sunset Court, as well as several cars damaged by flying debris – including one vehicle that got moved three feet from the impact of the heavy winds. No one in this neighborhood got hurt, though.
There were also reports of damage on Deen Still Road, where trees were toppled onto the roadway, blocking the roads, and the same thing happened at Spanish Moss Road. Trees had to be removed from both streets.
At Meadow Green Drive, a large tree fell on a powerline, while at the Thompson Nursery Road near the Terranova subdivision, trees fell over and blocked the road, forcing the sheriff’s office to issue a notice to local residents to find alternate routes if they had been planning to use Thompson Nursery Road.
Two Winter Haven residents got transported to area hospitals on Sunday with minor injuries caused by the storm, including one person with small cuts and abrasions, and another who complained about being short of breath.
Eleazor said the tornado followed a clear stretch of area in Winter Haven.
“Every report that we sent out went right along the path of the tornado,” Eleazer said. “I know it looks sort of random, but the storm followed a certain path.”

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