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Stalled storm soaks Florida

Fay drops as much as 22 inches, causing 'catastrophic' flooding. It heads out to sea but may return yet again.

August 21, 2008|From the Associated Press

PORT ST. LUCIE, FLA. — Emergency crews launched airboats into submerged streets Wednesday to rescue central Florida residents trapped by rising floodwaters from a stalled Tropical Storm Fay, which soaked the state for a third consecutive day.

Calling the flooding "catastrophic," Republican Gov. Charlie Crist requested an emergency disaster declaration from the federal government to defray the rising costs of cleanup and response. The White House said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was reviewing the request.

Flooding was reported in hundreds of homes in Brevard and St. Lucie counties, some with up to 5 feet of water. In three towns, rising waters backed up sewage systems. It wasn't immediately clear how many residents had been displaced or stranded, but county officials reported dozens of rescues.

"We can't even get out of our house," said Billie Dayton of Port St. Lucie, as waters lapped at her porch. "We're just hoping that it doesn't rain any more."

Fay could dump 30 inches of rain in parts of Florida. The National Hurricane Center said up to 22 inches had already fallen near Melbourne, south of Cape Canaveral.

By evening, the storm's center had moved over the Atlantic, and its winds were picking up. Forecasters expected it to strengthen slightly before turning back toward the mainland today. But National Hurricane Center meteorologist Corey Walton said it was unlikely the storm would reach hurricane strength.

Fay first struck Monday in the Florida Keys, then veered out to sea before traversing east across the state, briefly strengthening, then stalling.

If Fay strikes again, as expected, it would be just the fourth storm in recorded history to hit Florida with tropical storm intensity three separate times. The most recent was Hurricane Donna in 1960, said Daniel Brown, hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.

Although homes have been flooded up and down the coast, for many the storm was just an inconvenience.

John DeMatthews, 51, walked four miles from his home in Port St. Lucie to get supplies at the grocery store. His car has been marooned in his driveway since Monday.

"Just the necessities," DeMatthews said as he slogged through knee-deep water in the street. "Mayonnaise, cigarettes and coffee."

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