Posted by Rachel Leigh email
FLAGLER BEACH, FL (CNN) - Tropical Storm Fay was moving across northern Florida at a walking pace Thursday night, dropping heavy rain and threatening to stick around for at least another day in a state already struggling with flooding.
UPDATE, FRI 10 AM: Authorities said the storm, whose center re-entered the state Thursday after spending hours off Florida's Atlantic coast, contributed to Thursday's drownings of two women: one swimming off Neptune Beach and another who was in water off Daytona Beach.
That brought to three the number of Florida deaths attributed to Fay.
Heavy rain flooded homes and roads, leading President Bush on Thursday to declare a state of emergency for Florida, a move freeing federal funds to aid disaster relief efforts.
Some east-central coastal areas of Florida had received 20 to 30 inches of rain by 11 p.m. Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said.
An additional 5 to 10 inches could fall across central and northern Florida, southern Georgia and southeastern Alabama, with isolated amounts of 15 inches, the hurricane center said.
At 11 p.m. Thursday, a tropical storm warning was issued for Florida's Gulf Coast from Aripeka north and west to Indian Pass. Fay's center was expected to cross northern Florida slowly on Friday and be near or over the coast of the Florida Panhandle Friday night and Saturday, according to the hurricane center.
A tropical storm warning also was in effect on the Atlantic coast from Sebastian Inlet north to the Savannah River at the Georgia-South Carolina line. Tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 175 miles.
The storm's center made its third U.S. landfall Thursday afternoon at Flagler Beach after being stationary and hammering the same parts of Florida's Atlantic coast with rain for hours.
Shortly before 11 p.m., Fay's center was about 25 miles west-northwest of Daytona Beach, moving west at 2 mph. The storm had sustained winds near 60 mph, the hurricane center said.
Dozens of people were leaving flooded parts of the Melbourne area in eastern Florida on Thursday, CNN affiliate WFTV reported. Melbourne had received more than 26 inches of rain by 5 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.
Officials in Melbourne estimated the storm caused up to $12 million in damage and that about 80 neighborhoods had some of flooding. Hundreds of homes in south Melbourne were reported to have as much as 4 feet of water inside.
Florida National Guard members were helping rescue people from flooded areas, Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett said.
In Palm Coast, about 7 miles north of Flagler Beach, resident Rob Magill said benches on a dock near his home were partially submerged Thursday afternoon.
"The water has covered the beach; there isn't really any beach left at all," he said.
By Thursday morning, Cape Canaveral, where NASA employees stayed away for a third day, received 20.03 inches of rain and Palm Shores 19.57 inches, the weather service's forecast office said.
In Cape Canaveral, Louise Mills said she was trapped but comfortable in her condominium.
"We haven't been out since Tuesday because of the bad driving," she said. "It was hard to see because of all of the rain. But we have plenty of canned food."
She didn't really know that she was stranded until she and a friend tried to go to church Thursday morning.
"As far as we know, we can't leave our condominiums to get to [Highway] A1A because the police are blocking it," she said.
Mills' condo is on the third floor of a building two blocks from the ocean, she said.
"I'm up here. I'm not unfortunate. I can cook a hamburger. I've got power. I feel very blessed," she said.
Al Lewis just moved from Massachusetts to Velano Beach, near St. Augustine, in June. "It's a little different," he said.
Lewis shot photos of a 60-foot yacht that was grounded by the storm and then battered to bits by the pounding surf.
"Wreckage was strewn for about a mile down the beach," he said.
Ana M. Viamonte Ros, secretary of the Florida Department of Health, warned residents of the dangers of playing in flooded areas because of raw sewage, downed power lines, mosquitoes and animals seeking higher ground.
Catfish on the runway kept a Delta Air Lines flight from landing on time at Melbourne International Airport on Wednesday, WFTV reported.
Airport crews also encountered two gopher tortoises, a blue indigo snake and an alligator, WFTV reported.
An Army truck rescued Johann Vandaalen and her husband and pets from their Melbourne home Wednesday night.
"We don't live in a flood zone, but it just came in and came in and came in," Vandaalen told CNN affiliate WESH.
Thursday's drownings came a day after Gov. Charlie Crist announced Florida's first known death related to Fay. A 54-year-old man died from carbon monoxide fumes as he tested two gasoline-powered generators in his home in Highlands County, northwest of Lake Okeechobee in eastern Florida, Crist said, quoting the county's medical examiner.
Two to 4 inches of rain were possible across coastal areas of southern South Carolina and an additional 1 to 2 inches over southwest and southern Florida, the hurricane center said at 11 p.m. Thursday.
Storm surge flooding could be up to 4 feet above normal tides off the east coasts of Florida and Georgia.
CNN's Sean Morris and John Zarrella contributed to this report.
Naples, FL (CNN) - At least seven possible tornadoes were reported Tuesday in eastern Florida as Tropical Storm Fay battered parts of the state with high winds and heavy rain, the National Hurricane Center said.
Fay could strengthen into a hurricane when it swings over Florida again Thursday, according to the center.
"This storm is going to be with us for a while," said Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. "Looks like it could be a boomerang storm."
A hurricane watch has been issued for Florida's east coast, from north of Flagler Beach to Altamaha Sound.
At 5 p.m., the center of the storm was about 60 miles southwest of Melbourne, the hurricane center said. Fay was traveling north-northeast at 8 mph.
Florida Power & Light reported more than 93,000 customers without power in 20 counties. Most of the outages -- 34,000 -- were in Collier County, where Fay came ashore earlier in the day.
As many as 9,700 residents in Brevard County were without power Tuesday evening, according to David Waters, the county Emergency Operations Center spokesman.
A Brevard County tornado that hit about 1:45 p.m. damaged more than 50 homes, leaving nine uninhabitable, according to the emergency operations center. Three people suffered minor injuries, officials said.
Fay's maximum sustained winds remained near 65 mph, with higher gusts, forecasters said. A storm tracker in Moore Haven, near the west bank of Lake Okeechobee, reported winds up to 81 mph in the afternoon.
"Some fluctuations in intensity are likely this afternoon and tonight as Fay moves inland over Florida. Some strengthening is expected when Fay moves over the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday," according to the hurricane center.
The storm was earlier buffeting Lake Okeechobee with high winds as it moved north and northeast through Florida, leaving a trail of flooding, broken trees and power outages.
At midday, the hurricane center issued two tornado warnings -- for St. Lucie and Indian River counties, and tornado watches were in effect for several areas, most of them ending at 4 p.m.
A possible twister hit Wellington in Palm Beach County, where the violent weather ripped a small barn off its foundation and left a horse standing unhurt on a concrete slab, authorities said.
Dr. Bob Smith, an associate veterinarian at the Palm Beach Equine Clinic, said an 8-year-old quarterhorse named Onyx was in a stall, untied, when the suspected tornado hit about 2 a.m. It destroyed the structure "and left the horse standing there unscathed," Smith said.
When he came to work several hours later, a technician had rescued the horse, who was not visibly rattled, Smith said.
"She's just calm and cool," he said. "She's fine."
Smith said roof tiles flew off the veterinary clinic and broke car windows in a nearby parking lot. The storm also picked up a horse trailer and smashed it into another horse trailer, he said.
A tropical storm warning remained in effect along Florida's east coast from north of Ocean Reef to Flagler Beach, including Lake Okeechobee. A tropical storm watch covered that coast north of Flagler Beach to Fernandina Beach.
Fay is expected to produce 5 to 10 inches of rain over southern and east-central Florida, with possible maximum amounts of 15 inches. Three to 5 inches of rain were possible in the northwestern Bahamas.
Steve Delai, deputy chief of Fire and Rescue for Palm Beach County, said he could not confirm a tornado had hit the southeast county, but the damage was "consistent with a tornado."
"It's clear that the damage was in a very linear fashion," he said.
Crist said 31 schools were closed in the region Tuesday as a precaution. All but four, including Brevard County, will be open Wednesday.
"Floridians should continue to monitor local news reports, stay calm and exercise common sense," he advised. "Please remember to be cautious when testing generators and other hurricane-related equipment.
"In areas where the weather is getting worse, stay inside and stay off the roads and be safe," Crist added.
Fay's landfall at Cape Romano south of Marco Island was the third for the storm, which came ashore in western Cuba Sunday night and then again over Key West Monday afternoon.
Cindy Lou Corum, who lives in Palm Beach County, said her home was surrounded by water.
"I'm going to need a rowboat to get out of my house," she said. "I may have to swim out."
For residents in Punta Gorda, in southwest Florida, the storm and its trail of damage are a reminder of the devastation from Hurricane Charley in 2004.
Irene Faust has lived in mobile homes up and down the Florida coast for 35 years. Her trailer in Punta Gorda was destroyed by Charley.
Faust, who turns 82 on Thursday, said she learned from Charley and is urging others not to wait out the storm in their trailer.
"I'd say, get out of a mobile home, because it's like a cracker box," she said.
Concern about Fay's strength also led school officials in Broward County to delay the start of the school year, which was supposed to begin Monday.