Fay's 4th Fla. landfall one for the record books

Tropical Weather Fay
Peter Spyke checks the pumping system that is draining flood water off his grapefruit trees in Fort Pierce, Friday.J. Pat Carter / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Tropical Storm Fay's path Saturday crossing the Florida Panhandle vaulted the stubborn weather system into the record books.

The tropical storm crossed over the central Florida Panhandle at 5 a.m., the first in recorded history to hit the state with such intensity four different times.

The center of the storm was reported to be over the Florida panhandle about 15 miles north-northeast of Apalachicola, Florida, according to the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center.

Fay was expected to be near or over the western Florida Panhandle's coast Saturday and near or over the coast of Mississippi and Alabama on Sunday, the center said.

Though Fay never materialized into a hurricane, its zigzagging downpours have been plenty punishing.

At least six people in Florida were dead from the storm, state officials said, and two more deaths reported Friday were believed to be Fay-related. The state attributed an additional death, before the storm hit, to hurricane preparedness after a man testing generators died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

"The damage from Fay is a reminder that a tropical storm does not have to reach a hurricane level to be dangerous and cause significant damage," said Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who toured flooded communities this week.

Crist on Friday asked the White House to elevate the disaster declaration President Bush issued to a major disaster declaration. Crist said the storm damaged 1,572 homes in Brevard County alone, dropping 25 inches of rain in Melbourne.

‘We're just waiting’
Counties in the Panhandle — including Bay, Escambia and Walton — opened their emergency operations centers Friday in preparation for the storm's expected arrival there. To Florida's relief, forecasters expect Fay to weaken over the weekend and finally blow away before losing steam in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

In Steinhatchee, just south of Florida's Big Bend, bartender Dana Watson said she was bracing for a possible drenching. "It's moving real slow. We're waiting. We're just waiting."

In an area that can flood badly when high tide rolls in during a bad storm, she said most people remain prepared. "We've all got our generators filled up with gas and oil and our nonperishable food," Watson said.

At 5 a.m. Saturday, the center of the storm was moving west near 7 mph with sustained winds near 45 mph. The storm was expected to keep its strength and remain a tropical storm into Sunday.

Fay has been an unusual storm, even by Florida standards. It set sights on the state last Sunday and first made landfall in the Florida Keys on Monday. The storm then headed out over 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 coast. It was the first storm in almost 50 years to make three landfalls in the state, as most hit and exit within a day or two.