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Fay leaves soggy trail across Florida

Little if any damage reported in state from Fay, the sixth named storm of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.

BY VICKI DESORMIER | NAPLES, Fla. | August 19, 2008

"It turned out to be nothing."

—Judy Bezon

Tropical Storm Fay has, so far, not lived up to expectations.

Relief workers across Florida, who had been holding their breath watching the storm rip a deadly path across the Caribbean, exhaled easily as Fay made landfall Tuesday near Naples in southwest Florida with relatively low winds and a lot of rain. The storm left a soggy trail in its wake and little more.

Judy Bezon, an associate director with Brethren Disaster Response, said she watched the storm carefully throughout the early morning hours. By mid-morning, she had teams in the Tampa area standing by but said she didn't think they would need to be deployed.

"It turned out to be nothing," she said. "It looks like people down in the south part of the state are getting a lot of heavy rain, but I don't think they're going to have any real serious problems."

Still, she said, the teams would remain on standby until assessments had been done in the areas where the storm moved through.

Throughout the state, from the southwest corner where the storm first arrived, to central Florida, where it may never be seen, schools and government offices were closed. The Kennedy Space Center battened down the hatches and closed its public areas as well.

Donald Bower of CRWRC said his relief teams were also on standby. Little, if any, damage had been reported in the path of the storm through South Florida as Fay made a northern turn up the east coast of the state.

The storm, with winds of 65 mph, was moving to the north-northeast at 8 mph. At 1 p.m. EDT, it was located near Moore Haven, Fla. A tropical storm warning remained in effect along the east coast of the state from north of Ocean Reef to Flagler Beach; a tropical storm watch was in effect north of Flagler Beach to Fernandina Beach.

The storm, while still below hurricane strength, could produce some tornadoes as it moves northward. Relief organizations were standing by in case any twisters form and bring damage to the areas, Bower said. He said that until the storm passes, his and other organizations will remain vigilant, monitoring the news and weather outlets for reports of those in need.

Forecasters warned that Fay could spawn tornadoes and dump up to 10 inches of rain over parts of the southern and east-central Florida peninsula, with some areas getting as much as 15 inches. In a state where drought conditions have reached near record levels, the rain is a welcome respite, but the dry ground may not be able to absorb the deluge and flooding is possible in many areas.

Brian Wimer, a meteorologist with AccuWeather, said the storm's path has been unstable. While forecasters thought it would move up the west coast of the state when they issued statements on Monday, the path took Fay across the southern third of the state. On Tuesday morning, the forecast path showed Fay would probably hug the east coast. By noon, there was the possibility she might move into the Atlantic, where she could gain strength again and move ashore as a stronger storm in northern Florida.

"We're keeping a very careful eye on this one," Wimer said. "We do think it will re-emerge out into the Atlantic. Then the question is whether it will turn east or west. We think it will turn west.''

State emergency officials were keeping a close eye on things. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Florida VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster) and other responders continued to meet and keep a close eye on the path of the storm.

By the time the sun came up in South Florida where the storm has been slowly moving across the state, more than 58,000 Florida Power & Light customers were without power. About 28,000 of those customers were in Collier County, where the storm first came ashore.

Kevin Massey of Lutheran Disaster Response said his teams were watching the reports to see if they would be needed.

Fay is the sixth named storm of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season and the third to strike the U.S. with minimal damage. The hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

"We need these dress rehearsals," Massey said. "We are able to get everyone ready and make sure everything is ready to go, but so far we haven't had to make a big response. We're ready to go, though. We know everyone is ready."

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