Fay Swamps Florida; Governor Seeks Federal Aid
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Up to 10 inches of rain is expected over some parts of northern Florida today from Tropical Storm Fay as it continues to move west. Since it formed over the weekend, Fay has confounded forecasters, strengthening when it was expected to weaken and stalling yesterday for several hours over Florida's east coast. That caused widespread flooding in some coastal communities. From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN: Although Fay never reached hurricane strength, it achieved another distinction. It appears to be on a path that will take it over the entire state of Florida. When Fay made landfall in southwest Florida Tuesday morning, meteorologists expected that it would weaken as it crossed the state. Instead, it picked up strength over the Everglades and developed an eye. And as it approached Florida's Atlantic coast, Fay once again surprised forecasters by stalling in the area over Cape Canaveral. By yesterday afternoon, Fay's winds had slowed. At a news conference, Florida Governor Charlie Crist said the overriding threat was rain.
Governor CHARLIE CRIST (Republican, Florida): I want to stress that this storm is turning into a serious catastrophic flooding event, particular in southern Brevard County. The weather forecast tells us that some areas could see rainfall as much as 30 inches.
ALLEN: In the town of Cocoa, not far from Cape Canaveral, Bobby Heffernan had to wade through two feet of water to get out of his neighborhood. He said it was almost as bad as Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
Mr. BOBBY HEFFERNAN: You have to live with it until it goes down. It took, what, about two weeks for that water to go down last time on Wilma? There ain't much you can really do.
ALLEN: A day earlier, a tornado spawned by the storm damaged dozens of homes in another part of the county. But yesterday, David Waters of Brevard County's Emergency Management Office said there was a new problem. Fay's rains overwhelmed the area's sewage system, causing backups that flooded homes. High-water vehicles were being used to rescue people from homes and cars, including, Waters said, a National Guard detail that helped evacuate seven people from a trailer park in a flooded area near I-95.
Mr. DAVID WATERS (Emergency Management Office): The National Guard folks went down there and ended up in waist-high water in some places. So it's certainly a tough effort to get folks out of those areas.
ALLEN: Further south on Florida's east coast it was a similar story. Erick Gill is with the Emergency Operation Center in St. Lucie County.
Mr. ERICK GILL (Emergency Operations Center): We had roughly 12 inches of rain in a 24 hour period. And this was a slow moving storm that came from the west and so a lot of the canals and drainage in this county drain from the west to the east.
ALLEN: The overflow from those canals contributed to the flooding. In St. Lucie County as many as 700 homes were flooded. Gill says in some areas flood waters were five feet deep.
Mr. GILL: We have had to send some air boats into areas, just because the roads were impassable. To get people in and out we've had - you know, there are a number of roads where you'll see a dozen or so cars just abandoned. The cities and the counties have been working together. We've had dump trucks and school buses driving into neighborhoods picking up people and transporting them to a dry area.
ALLEN: St. Lucie County says a preliminary estimate puts storm-related damage at $25 million. Schools and government offices both there and in Brevard County will be closed for the rest of the week. Governor Crist has requested that President Bush issue a federal disaster declaration to help the state cover the costs of responding to the crisis and the clean-up that's still to come. The White House says FEMA is reviewing the request.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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