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Fay not done yet as it moves toward Alabama, Mississippi

Sunday, August 24, 2008

APALACHICOLA, Fla. -- Fay just won't quit. The tropical storm system that set a record with four landfalls in Florida chugged westward across the Gulf Coast on Saturday and cities from Pensacola to New Orleans prepared for inches of rain.

Proving that a slow-moving tropical storm can be as deadly and damaging as a hurricane, the storm killed at least 11 people in Florida and one in Georgia, emergency officials said.

Thousands of homes and businesses were inundated with floodwaters last week as the storm worked its way north from its first landfall in the Florida Keys and zigzagged across the peninsula.

Fay's center made its fourth landfall early Saturday about 15 miles north-northeast of Apalachicola, according to the National Hurricane Center. While the landfall was mostly uneventful in that area, bands of heavy rain and high winds making up the eastern half of the storm pelted inland areas.

Rains and strong wind gusts blitzed Tallahassee, the state capital, for more than 24 hours, knocking down trees and power lines and cutting electricity to more than 12,000 customers, city officials said.

In southern Georgia, Fay's winds toppled trees and utility poles and ripped small pieces off some homes near the Florida border.

Snapped power lines left about 6,100 Georgia homes and businesses without electricity Friday afternoon, mostly in Valdosta, Waycross, Tifton and Bainbridge, Georgia Power spokeswoman Lynn Wallace said.

In rural Clyattville, Ga., a large oak limb crashed through the middle of a mobile home and barely missed its four occupants, Lowndes County spokeswoman Paige Dukes said.

Saturday night, Fay was downgraded to a tropical depression. It was expected to move over southern Alabama and Mississippi today.

Emergency officials in low-lying cities in Fay's path weren't taking any chances.

In the New Orleans area, which is approaching the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, emergency officials were monitoring the storm and telling residents of the potential for heavy rain and the need to avoid low areas that could flood.

City officials in Slidell, La., where forecasters predicted 3 to 5 inches of rain could fall late Sunday and through Monday, said emergency vehicles had been fueled and workers were on call.

Forecasts called for 1 to 3 inches of rain in the New Orleans area, on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain. In St. Bernard Parish, the site of some of the worst post-Katrina flooding, emergency officials were handing out sandbags to residents Saturday.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, R. David Paulison, visited the National Hurricane Center in Miami on Saturday to discuss concerns of flooding in the Gulf Coast if the storm continues to creep on its path, a FEMA spokeswoman said.

"The flooding is definitely something that we are monitoring and tracking and he was down there to see what kind of handle he could get on that," spokeswoman Mary Margaret Walker said.

The 11 people killed in the storm in Florida brings the death toll from Fay to 23. Thirteen died in Haiti and the Dominican Republic from flooding.

Fay's wake caused widespread flooding along Florida's east coast, especially in Jacksonville near the storm's third landfall.

The Office of Insurance Regulation reported Saturday that roughly 6,700 homeowners filed claims, although only some were because of flooding. That number was expected to change, and Gov. Charlie Crist has asked the federal government to declare the worst-hit areas major disaster areas.

Fay has been an unusual storm since it was named Aug. 15. After hitting the Keys Monday, it crossed open water again before hitting a second time near Naples on the southwest coast. It limped across the state, popped back out into the Atlantic Ocean and struck again near Flagler Beach on the central eastern coast. It was the first storm in almost 50 years to make three landfalls in the state as a tropical storm. Its fourth landfall as such was the first in recorded history.

"This is unprecedented in terms of the slow nature of this storm, the large circulation and the fact that its impacted probably about 90 percent of the state with heavy rains and severe weather," state meteorologist Ben Nelson said.


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