STEINHATCHEE, Fla. – Tropical Storm Fay crossed into the Florida Panhandle on Saturday, becoming the first storm of its kind in recorded history to hit the state four different times.
Fay's center made landfall around 1 a.m. EDT about 15 miles north-northeast of Apalachicola, Fla., according to the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center.
Fay was expected to skirt across the Panhandle's coast Saturday and the coast of Mississippi and Alabama on Sunday, forecasters said.
Though Fay never materialized into a hurricane, its zigzagging downpours have been punishing and deadly.
Florida authorities said 2 more people were killed by Tropical Storm Fay Saturday, raising death toll to 10. The state attributed an additional death, before the storm hit, to hurricane preparedness after a man testing generators died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
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"The damage from Fay is a reminder that a tropical storm does not have to reach a hurricane level to be dangerous and cause significant damage," said Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who toured flooded communities this week.
Crist on Friday asked the White House to elevate the disaster declaration President Bush issued to a major disaster declaration. Crist said the storm damaged 1,572 homes in Brevard County alone, dropping 25 inches of rain in Melbourne.
Counties in the Panhandle — including Bay, Escambia and Walton — opened their emergency operations centers Friday in preparation for the storm's expected arrival there. To Florida's relief, forecasters expect Fay to weaken over the weekend and finally blow away before losing steam in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
In Steinhatchee, just south of Florida's Big Bend, bartender Dana Watson said she was bracing for a possible drenching. "It's moving real slow. We're waiting. We're just waiting."
In an area that can flood badly when high tide rolls in during a bad storm, she said most people remain prepared. "We've all got our generators filled up with gas and oil and our nonperishable food," Watson said.
At 5 a.m. Saturday, the center of the storm was located about 20 miles southeast of Panama City and moving west near 7 mph with sustained winds near 45 mph. The storm was expected to keep its strength and remain a tropical storm into Sunday.
Meanwhile, heavy rain in Fay's wake were causing widespread flooding across the Jacksonville area, near the storm's third landfall. Forecasters said some areas of Duval County had received up to 20 inches, and authorities reported an unknown number of homes and businesses flooded.
Farther south in Florida, some of the hardest-hit areas got encouraging signs as the floods receded. Days earlier, 4 feet of water made roads look like rivers in Melbourne.
"This is a welcome sight," said Ron Salvatore, 69, who stood in his driveway Friday morning boiling coffee on a propane grill and surveyed a dry street. Salvatore and his wife Terry, 59, had been stuck in the house since Tuesday because water surrounded their home.
Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said so far nearly 4,000 flood claims from Fay had been filed.
Fay has been an unusual storm, even by Florida standards. It set sights on the state last Sunday and first made landfall in the Florida Keys on Monday. The storm then headed out over 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 coast. It was the first storm in almost 50 years to make three landfalls in the state, as most hit and exit within a day or two.