Tropical Storm Henri Soaks Florida Coast

Slow-moving Tropical Storm Henri (search) drenched an already soaked Florida on Friday, pushing heavy rains into areas where lakes and rivers were full to overflowing.

State prisoners were filling sandbags to hold back rivers, and residents already weary from fighting floodwaters were bracing for more.

Officials in Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk and Citrus counties offered residents free sandbags to help protect their doorways from rising waters.

The storm's center was expected to make landfall early Saturday near Crystal River (search), about 60 miles north of Tampa, with sustained winds of 45 mph but perhaps not much additional rain, forecasters said.

At 11 p.m. EDT, Henri was centered about 70 miles southwest of St. Petersburg and was becoming disorganized as it drifted east at about 3 mph, forecasters said.

"The odd thing about this is the rain is really concentrated away from the storm itself," said Karl Loeper, a forecaster at the National Weather Service (search) office in Tampa. "The storm itself was never organized very well."

There were reports of homes being flooded in Charlotte County, some 140 miles south of Crystal River. At least two injuries were linked to the storm.

A Lee County man was hospitalized after apparently being struck by lightning, county rescue officials said. In Tampa, another man was hospitalized with critical injuries after he lost control of his pickup on a rain-slicked interstate, police said.

More than four inches of rain fell in a two-hour span in Punta Gorda on Friday afternoon, flooding virtually all the city's streets, said Wayne Sallade, Charlotte County's director of emergency management.

"Massive is the best way to describe (the street flooding)," Sallade said. "What we've been doing is trying to urge people to get home and stay home."

More than five inches of rain fell in an hour in North Port in Sarasota County, causing more street flooding, city officials said.

In the town of Hernando, along the Withlacoochee River north of Tampa, Ron Medlock had two inches of the river's water in his guest house even before Henri's rains arrived.

"We're concerned, but there's not really anything we can do," Medlock said.

Like many Floridians, Medlock wasn't impressed yet by the slow-moving storm that so far wasn't much more than a big rainstorm.

"Nobody wants to run and hide," Medlock said. "I was born and raised in Florida so I've been through this for 67 years."

Hurricane specialist Jack Beven of the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Henri's rain and moisture covered nearly all of the Florida peninsula, but that its tropical storm-force winds only covered a small area near the storm center.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for a 220-mile stretch of Florida's Gulf coast, from Englewood south of Sarasota north to the Aucilla River in the Panhandle, about 20 miles southeast of Tallahassee.