Six Dead as Tropical Storm Fay Lingers in Florida - NBC4 Washington

Six Dead as Tropical Storm Fay Lingers in Florida



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    MIAMI, Florida, August 22, 2008 (ENS) - Floridians wish Fay would just go away, but the stubborn tropical storm that never became a hurricane is still hanging around and making life miserable across the northwestern part of the state.

    At 5 pm local time, the center of the storm was about 50 miles north of Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast of the Florida Peninsula near the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge.

    Tropical Storm Fay is forecast to move on a west-northwest course across North Florida and across the Apalachicola Bay Friday night into Saturday. Fay is expected to sustain tropical storm strength into Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

    Heavy rains are expected across the I-10 corridor in the Big Bend and Florida Panhandle. Flood Watches have been posted for this region as 6-12 inches of rainfall are forecast. Some rivers throughout North Florida may exceed flood stage over the next few days because of the expected heavy rainfall.

    State officials have counted six Florida fatalities they blame on the storm, saying four people died in traffic accidents in the downpour, two others drowned in heavy surf, and one person died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

    "Slow moving storms can drop significant amounts of rain so we are urging all Floridians to use caution as they travel this week, "said Florida Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate. "Remember, turn around, don't drown if approaching a flooded roadway."

    In total, Tropical Storm Fay is responsible for 28 deaths, most in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

    Florida Governor Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency for all counties as the storm droppedup to 24 inches of rain along parts of Florida's low-lying central Atlantic coast this week.

    President George W. Bush issued a federal disaster declaration Thursday for all of Florida's 67 counties, as hundreds of residents evacuated their homes to escape floodwaters that were suddenly filled with alligators and snakes washed out of their habitats in some places.

    Alligators live in all Florida counties, and state officials say they receive more than 18,000 alligator-related complaints each year. But the floodwaters heighten the risk of an encounter with people because the creatures search for a safe place to wait out the storm.

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is warning Floridians not to attempt to interact with wildlife or rescue wild animals during or immediately after the storm. FWC officials said they expect the alligators and snakes to return to their natural habitats once water recedes back to normal levels.

    But now heavy rain is falling across northern Florida, southern Georgia and southern Alabama, and flash flood watches remain in effect in those areas.

    State health officials are warning people to stay out of standing floodwaters that may be contaminated with lawn-and-garden chemicals and other toxic substances.

    Some public water systems are currently on a precautionary boil water notice as a result of Tropical Storm Fay. A list can be found here.

    On the Atlantic coast, storm conditions from Fay have prevented 25 cargo and tanker ships from entering the ports of Port Canaveral, Jacksonville, Florida, and Brunswick, Georgia, the U.S. Coast Guard says, and cruise ships are being allowed to run normally in Port Canaveral today.

    In Mayport, Florida, a local casino cruise ship broke free of its moorings due to high winds and rough seas associated with Fay Friday at six this morning.

    The Sun Cruz casino ship broke free with only two people and grounded in the St. Johns River east of the Jacksonville Pilot's Station.

    A small tug that was moored near the Sun Cruz was able to get underway and pull the vessel free. The tug towed Sun Cruz back to its berth. There is no apparent pollution associated with the ship's grounding, Coast Guard officials said.

    The Port of Jacksonville remains closed as Coast Guard crews conduct post-storm assessments of waterside facilities and the waterways to ensure they are safe for vessels to enter.

    The federal government is attempting to ease flooding in the vicinity of the Banana River, Florida, by limiting the operation of the Port Canaveral lock system. The Army Corps of Engineers will keep the Port Canaveral locks in the open position to help ease flooding and mariners are warned to avoid the locks if they see a red light due to hazardous currents.

    Tropical Storm Fay first made landfall in Key West on Monday before veering into the Gulf of Mexico. It again made landfall near Naples early Tuesday and moved northeast through the Florida peninsula, emerging into the Atlantic Ocean near Melbourne on Wednesday leaving extensive flooding in its wake. On Thursday, Fay struck land for the third time near Daytona Beach, moving due west across the Panhandle, crossing Gainesville in central Florida.

    Fay now is predicted to continue westward, then linger near Pensacola or Baton Rouge for two days, before heading north-northeast through Tennessee.

    {Photo: An alligator photographed walking through a Central Florida residential district on Tuesday by Scott Auld}

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