NAPLES, Fla. – Tropical Storm Fay made landfall on Florida's southwest coast early Tuesday, bringing soaking rains and gusty winds but nothing like the destruction last seen in the area during a 2004 killer hurricane.
Streets were largely deserted in the early morning hours in Naples, where police had a curfew in place. Rain swept across desolate streets that were littered with palm fronds and other minor debris, and there was street flooding in spots but no immediate reports of storm surge damage.
Fay never achieved hurricane status as long forecast, and most businesses opted to go without any shutters or other window protection. Of those that did, some plywood carried messages aimed at major storms from the past — "Pop Off Charley" and "Oh Wilma!" among them.
With no major Florida hurricanes in the past two years, officials were worried that complacency could cost lives as they repeatedly urged people across the state to take Fay seriously.
Scattered power outages were reported early Tuesday including 5,800 customers on upscale Marco Island, according to Collier County officials. They also said 148 people spent the night in storm shelters.
After crossing the Florida Keys without causing major damage Monday, Fay lumbered ashore about 5 a.m. (0900 GMT) Tuesday at Cape Romano, just south of Naples, with sustained winds of about 60 mph (96 kph), well below hurricane threshold of 74 mph (119 kph).
Cape Romano is the same spot where Hurricane Wilma, a Category 3 storm, made landfall in October 2005.
To the north in the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas County lifted an evacuation order affecting mobile home residents and others in vulnerable areas when the storm failed to reach hurricane status. But schools and government offices remained closed.
"I think we're going to all enjoy a nice summer day," said Sally Bishop, the county's emergency management director.
Before landfall, Fay — the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season — stirred unpleasant memories for many in and around Punta Gorda who rode out deadly Hurricane Charley in 2004.
"I am scared," said Monica Palanza, a Punta Gorda real estate agent who watched trees topple on her neighbors' homes when Charley reached Category 4 strength — the second-strongest level — just north of Punta Gorda. "You can never be prepared enough."
But others said they were relieved Fay was no Charley and took a wait-and-see attitude.
"After going through Charley, this doesn't seem nothing more than a gust of wind," said Jesse Gilmore, 34, who put up storm shutters Monday at a local business as a precaution.
At 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT) Tuesday, Fay was moving north-northeast near 9 mph (14 kph). All hurricane warnings had been discontinued. A tropical storm warning, however, was in effect for everything south of Longboat Key on Florida's west coast and everything south of Flagler Beach on the east coast.
On Monday, as Fay headed toward the peninsula, schools and many businesses closed, even miles to the east in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas.
Southwest Florida International Airport near Fort Myers operated normally Monday, but airlines postponed about 140 flights Tuesday until evening hours, spokeswoman Victoria Moreland said.
Flooding is a major concern as Fay heads up the peninsula, with rainfall amounts forecast up to 10 inches (25 centimeters). Storm surge of up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) above normal was also possible. The storm also could spawn dangerous tornadoes.
Warnings to people to take precautions were issued as Fay spread rain and sent wind gusts of up to 51 mph (82 kph) over the Keys on Monday.
Monroe County Mayor Mario Di Gennaro estimated 25,000 fled the Keys before Fay hit there Monday afternoon.
"This is not the type of storm that's going to rip off a lot of roofs or cause the type of damage we normally see in a large hurricane," said Craig Fugate, the state's emergency management chief.
However, Fugate said: "I've seen as many people die when I have a blob-shaped asymmetrical storm that they dismiss as not being very dangerous."
The state took every step to make sure it was ready. National Guard troops were at the ready and more were waiting in reserve, and 20 truckloads of tarps, 200 truckloads of water and 52 truckloads of food were available for distribution.
As it moved though the Caribbean, Fay was blamed for at least 14 deaths in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, including two babies who were found in a river after a bus crash.
People as far north as the Tampa Bay region were worried. In Ruskin, Paula Fuentes, 52, sat with her pregnant daughter and other neighborhood acquaintances, trying to decide whether to evacuate to a local shelter.
"I just don't know what to do," Fuentes said. "Stay here or go, when it gets bad."
But Al Goenner, 35, nailed plywood to the windows of a bicycle shop after Fay swept across the Florida Keys on Monday toward the mainland. He wasn't too worried.
"I don't think it's going to be a problem," Goenner said. "We just want to make sure it's not a problem."