JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Hundreds of central Florida homes flooded Wednesday as Tropical Storm Fay drenched the state for a third consecutive day, and forecasters warned the waters could worsen because the storm had stubbornly stalled.
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.
"In some areas, it's waist-deep," said Erick Gill, a spokesman for St. Lucie County, which is south of Melbourne. "We've had reports of people having 3 to 5 feet of water in their home."
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.
The Florida National Guard mobilized about a dozen guardsmen and some high-water vehicles to assist with damage assesment and help evacuate people trapped in homes, said Jon Myatt, spokesman for the Florida Department of Military Affairs.
Forecasters had originally expected Fay to energize over the ocean and possibly become a hurricane. But the storm's center remained just inland early Wednesday and forecasters said it might not go over the water until the afternoon.
Yvonne Martinez, spokeswoman for the city of Palm Bay, said 2 to 3 feet of water rendered many roadways impassable. "From what I've seen, some people won't be able to get out of their houses until the water recedes," she said.
The storm remained near Cape Canaveral at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, not having moved much in several hours. Its maximum sustained winds were back up to about 50 mph and it was expected to resume slowly moving north later Wednesday.
Steve Letro, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Jacksonville, said Wednesday parts of northern Florida could get 10 to 15 inches of rain, while southern Georgia could receive 3 to 6 inches.
Bands from Fay, meanwhile, brought intermittent rains to Georgia's 100-mile coastline Wednesday from St. Marys at the Florida state line to Savannah.
Robyn Butler, 45, and her husband fled their 32-foot camper in Vero Beach, Fla., after it flooded. They got a hotel room inland in Sebastian, but planned to leave it Wednesday and return home because storm water was also pooling there. The toilets were backing up, Butler said, and wouldn't flush.
"(My husband is) from Kansas and he gets all bug-eyed when he hears tornadoes," Butler said. "So we decided to evacuate."
A hurricane watch was discontinued for parts of north Florida and Georgia. A tropical storm warning was extended, covering an area from Fort Pierce, Fla., to Altamaha Sound in Georgia. A warning means such conditions are expected within 24 hours, while a watch means such conditions are possible within 36 hours.
The storm hit the Florida Keys on Monday, veered over the Gulf and then traversed east across the state Tuesday on a path that would have taken it over the Atlantic before it curved toward the Florida-Georgia border. It was welcome in rain-starved croplands.
"It's very seldom we're hoping for a hurricane, but we are," said Randy Branch, a farmer in southeast Georgia where lingering drought has left about a third of his cotton and peanut crops bare this summer. "We need some rain pretty bad."
In Duval County, which surrounds Jacksonville, officials prepared shelters, cleared drainage areas that could flood and readied emergency response teams. Public schools canceled Wednesday and Thursday classes, and mobile home residents were encouraged to find sturdier shelter.
In southeast Georgia, Camden County public works crews cleaned storm drains and ditches in preparation for possible flooding. The Georgia Emergency Management Agency also began 24-hour operations Tuesday afternoon to monitor the storm.
Fay formed over the weekend in the Atlantic and was blamed for 20 deaths in the Caribbean before hitting Florida's southwest coast, where it fell short of predictions it could be a Category 1 hurricane when it came ashore.
The storm flooded streets in Naples, downed trees and cut power to some 95,000 homes and businesses in South Florida on Monday. Tornadoes spawned by the storm damaged 51 homes in Brevard County, southeast of Orlando, including nine homes that were totaled.Two injuries were reported in the Brevard County tornado, and a kitesurfer who was caught in a gust of wind Monday was critically injured when he slammed into a building in front of the beach near Fort Lauderdale. Kevin Kearney, 28, was still in critical condition Tuesday, Broward General Medical Center officials and his family said.
Associated Press Writer Russ Bynum reported from Savannah, Ga.; Kelli Kennedy, Matt Sedensky and Travis Reed reported from Miami; Christine Armario reported in Tampa, Tamara Lush reported in Punta Gorda, Bill Kaczor and Brendan Farrington reported from Tallahassee and Sarah Larimer from Orlando.