Downgraded, Fay is still a menace on Gulf Coast
Tropical Storm Fay was downgraded to a tropical depression Saturday night, but cities along the Gulf Coast were still bracing for heavy rain.
As a tropical storm, Fay set a record with four landfalls in Florida and was blamed for at least 11 deaths there and one in Georgia, emergency officials said.
Though the storm weakened as it traveled inland Saturday, with maximum sustained winds of about 35 mph, cities from Pensacola, Fla., to New Orleans were still preparing for possible flooding.
Forecasters said areas from the Florida Panhandle to eastern Louisiana could get 6 to 12 inches of rain before the storm ends. Isolated tornadoes were also possible.
“People automatically assume that if it weakens, the hazards go down with it, but in the case of rainfall, it’s not a function of wind speed,” said Jamie Rhome of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “Slow-moving systems dump a lot of rainfall.”
The forecast indicated the depression could slow in the next few days and possibly stall Monday over southern Mississippi or eastern Louisiana, Rhome said. It was expected to bring heavy rain to southern Alabama and Mississippi today.
The Coast Guard in Mobile, Ala., closed numerous ports and waterways between Panama City in Florida and the Alabama coast to the east.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley declared a state of emergency, and officials opened shelters Saturday in the coastal counties of Mobile and Baldwin. Utility officials said thousands of people lost power.
In the New Orleans area, which is approaching the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, forecasts called for several inches of rain.
Fay’s center made its fourth landfall early Saturday about 15 miles north-northeast of Apalachicola, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Rains and strong wind blitzed Tallahassee, the state capital, for more than 24 hours.
In southwest Georgia, officials said a boy drowned Saturday while playing in a drainage ditch swollen by 10 to 12 inches of rain.
The overall toll from Fay was at least 35. Flooding killed 23 in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Fay had been an unusual storm since it was named Aug. 15. After hitting the Keys on Monday, it crossed 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 eastern coast.
It was the first storm in almost 50 years to make three landfalls in the state as a tropical storm. Its fourth landfall as such was the first in recorded history.
“This is unprecedented in terms of the slow nature of this storm, the large circulation and the fact that it’s impacted probably about 90% of the state with heavy rains and severe weather,” state meteorologist Ben Nelson said.