Published: 2008-08-20 06:44:00
Updated: 2008-08-20 21:34:33
Posted August 20, 2008 6:44 a.m. EDT
Updated August 20, 2008 9:34 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — 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.
In North Carolina, high pressure pushed down from the north, holding Fay to the south and eliminating any possibility for the soaking rains needed in the drought-parched western half of the state.
Winds from the storm might be felt in the Triangle over the next few days, as breezes increase from 5 to up to 25 mph, meteorologist Mike Maze said.
Maze put some showers in the extended forecast. "On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we may see some of the remains of Fay."
That pales in comparison with the soaking the east coast of Florida is getting. Hundreds of homes were flooded in areas of Brevard and St. Lucie counties, some by up to 5 feet of standing water. In three towns, rising floodwaters backed up sewage systems. It wasn't immediately clear how many residents were stranded, but county officials reported making 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 anymore."
The Florida National Guard mobilized about a dozen guardsmen and some high-water vehicles to assist with damage assessment and evacuations, said Jon Myatt, spokesman for the Florida Department of Military Affairs.
The storm could dump 30 inches of rain in some areas of Florida, and the National Hurricane Center said up to 22 inches had already fallen near Melbourne, just south of Cape Canaveral on the state's central Atlantic coast.
Forecasters originally expected Fay to energize over the ocean and possibly become a hurricane before landing in Florida for a third time later this week. The storm barely moved for most of Wednesday, however, dumping inches and inches of rain over central Florida. The erratic storm first struck Monday in the Florida Keys island chain, then veered out to sea before traversing east across the state, briefly strengthening before losing steam and stalling.
"In some areas, it's waist-deep," said Erick Gill, a spokesman for St. Lucie County. "We've had reports of people having 3 to 5 feet of water in their home."
Tom Christopher, St. Lucie County emergency management coordinator, said that between 85 and 140 people had been rescued by boat or high-clearance vehicle by Wednesday afternoon. He said no more were stranded, though other families seemed to be stuck without a way to leave.
The storm remained near Cape Canaveral at 2 p.m. Wednesday. At 8 p.m., it had moved offshore and was about 45 miles east-southeast of Daytona Beach. Its maximum sustained winds were back up to about 60 mph and it was expected to resume slowly moving northwest, the hurricane center said.
Gill said hundreds of homes had been flooded, though a count was incomplete. Homes also were flooded in Brevard County, said Bob Lay, the county's emergency operations director. Floodwaters also had caused sewage to back up, affecting another 40,000 to 50,000 people in three towns.
Fay formed over the weekend in the Atlantic and was blamed for 20 deaths in the Caribbean before hitting Florida's southwest coast.
Though no one in Florida had been killed, some were close. Joe McMannis, 27, said he jumped in them to help three people in a submerged truck in Jensen Beach. McMannis said the driver accidentally drove into a retention pond, confusing it for a driveway.
"I didn't think it was going to be that deep," he said. "It pretty much came up to my ears and chin. I saw this little kid coming toward me, so I grabbed him and swam him back to the shore line and went back for other two guys that were still stuck in there."
The rain was welcome in dry Florida and Georgia cropland, but could also hurt farmers' production. Forecasters predicted parts of northern Florida could get 10 to 15 inches of rain, while southern Georgia could receive 3 to 6 inches.