MELBOURNE, Fla. Torrential rains from a slow-moving Tropical Storm Fay triggered a new round of flooding Thursday, submerging roads and forcing dozens of people to flee the rising water in their homes.
With Fay hugging Florida's northeast Atlantic coast, repeatedly lashing the region with buckets of rain, police and National Guard troops were evacuating people from flood areas in the barrier island town of Merritt Island, where lakes were overflowing into houses, said Brevard County Sheriff's Sgt. Linda Moros. People were also being evacuated from a mobile home community in Melbourne.
"I want to stress that this storm is becoming a serious catastrophic flooding event," said Gov. Charlie Crist, who scheduled a visit to tour part of the flooded area later in the day.
One man rescued by the National Guard from his mobile home, 44-year-old Mike White, said water was lapping at his front door and still rising.
"This is the worst I've absolutely ever seen it," White said.
The water was also driving many alligators, snakes and other animals from their lairs. Emergency management spokeswoman Kimberly Prosser said Brevard County wildlife officers have received several calls about alligators and other animals spotted in flooded neighborhoods, but only two small alligators have been captured.
"In the past we've usually had flooding in pockets. I have not seen anything this widespread throughout the county," Prosser said.
Although Fay virtually stalled overnight, forecasters expected it to continue a zigzag course and come ashore in Florida for a third time in a week. The storm was also likely to impact Georgia, but it was not predicted to reach hurricane strength.
Hundreds of homes were flooded from St. Lucie to Brevard counties, some with up to 5 feet of water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was reviewing Crist's request for a federal emergency disaster declaration to defray rising debris and response costs.
About 10,200 homes and businesses in Brevard County were without power early Thursday, and about 134 people spent the night in shelters, she said. The county is home to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, which has been closed to most workers and all visitors since Tuesday. The center reported no significant damage.
Fay could dump 30 inches of rain in some areas of Florida and the National Weather Service said nearly 25 inches had already fallen near Melbourne, just south of Cape Canaveral.
In Jacksonville, residents were told to expect the brunt of the storm later Thursday. With schools, government offices and many businesses closed, streets were quiet and traffic was light at what would normally be the start of rush hour.
John Place, at a local Wal-Mart, said he and his wife has been prepared for quite a while. "This is not a panic situation," he said. "If it was a Category 1, 2 or 3 (hurricane) making a direct hit on Jacksonville, you'd have something."
Meanwhile, water was receding Thursday in some Florida towns hit hard by flooding earlier in the week.
"This is the first day we can actually see the tops of the roads," said Barry Johnson, 44, of Port St. Lucie. "I was starting to get a little antsy."
The southern half of the Georgia coast was under a tropical storm warning as the outer bands of Fay brought start-and-stop rains along the entire 100 miles of the state's coastline up to Savannah, which received more than an inch of rain Wednesday.
Mary Neff watched the rain come and go Wednesday in St. Marys two blocks from the downtown waterfront at the Spencer House Inn, which she owns with her husband.
"We're pulling in our plants and porch furniture, making sure we have our supplies and gas for the generator," said Neff, who'd had three couples call to cancel weekend reservations. "I still think we all need to stay on our toes."
The National Weather Service said isolated flooding was possible in southern Georgia, where Fay was forecast to dump 3 to 6 inches of rain if it followed the predicted path south of the Georgia-Florida border through Friday.
The storm hovered just off the Florida coast for hours Thursday morning. At 11 a.m. EDT, the storm's center was essentially stalled, located about 15 miles east-southeast of Daytona Beach. It was expected to begin slowly moving toward the west-northwest later in the day, bringing heavy rains to northern Florida and southern Georgia.
Maximum sustained winds were near 60 mph. The National Hurricane Center said some strengthening was possible while the center was still over water. But the storm was expected to weaken after moving back over land.
The erratic storm first struck Monday in the Florida Keys, then veered out to sea before traversing east across the state, briefly strengthening, then stalling. For much of Wednesday, the storm barely moved, dumping inches and inches of rain over coastal central Florida.
If Fay strikes Florida again as expected, it would be just the fourth storm in recorded history to hit the peninsula 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.
Associated Press Writer Russ Bynum reported from Savannah, Ga.; Ron Word reported from Jacksonville; Lisa Orkin Emmanuel, Curt Anderson, Kelli Kennedy, Matt Sedensky and Travis Reed reported from Miami; Christine Armario reported in Tampa, Bill Kaczor and Brendan Farrington reported from Tallahassee and Sarah Larimer from Orlando.