MIAMI – After bringing rains, heavy winds and even tornadoes to parts of Florida, Tropical Storm Andrea was moving quickly toward the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas early Friday, promising sloppy commutes and waterlogged vacation getaways through the beginning of the weekend.
The first named storm of the Atlantic season was losing some intensity late Thursday and by early Friday, its winds were down to 45 mph.
Ben Nelson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville, said Andrea was "moving at a pretty brisk pace" and could lose its tropical characteristics as early as Friday morning.
However, forecasters warned it could cause isolated flooding and storm surge over the next two days.
Heavy rains were continuing well away from the storm's center. The weather service in Charleston, S.C., advised of "an enhanced coastal flooding threat near the high tide Friday morning," as well as of possible tornadoes. Rain bands could bring wind gusts in excess of 40 mph or 50 mph, the weather service said.
Early Friday, tropical storm warnings remained in effect for the East Coast from Altamaha Sound in Georgia to Cape Charles Light in Virginia, the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds and the lower Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort. A tropical storm warning means tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere inside the warning area within a day and a half.
As of 5 a.m. EDT Friday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Andrea was about 30 miles northeast of Savannah, Ga., having made landfall a day earlier in Florida's Big Bend area. Andrea was moving northeast near 28 mph.
Rains and winds from the storm were forecast to sweep northward along the Southeastern U.S. coast Friday.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott had warned of the risk of tornadoes, and officials said that eight were confirmed across the state.
"This one fortunately is a fast-moving storm," he said Thursday. Slower-moving storms can pose a greater flood risk because they have more time to linger and dump rain.
In The Acreage, a part of Palm Beach County, Fla., pre-kindergarten teacher Maria Cristina Arias choked back tears and clutched valuable personal papers as she surveyed the damage done by a tornado to her five-bedroom home when she was away. Windows were smashed and a neighbor's shed had crashed into her bedroom.
"It's all destroyed," she told The Palm Beach Post. "This is unbelievable. I don't know what we're going to do."
Her 19-year-old son, Christian, was sleeping when he heard a loud noise.
"It was really scary," said the teen, who wasn't hurt. "It sounded like something exploded. I didn't know what was going on."
Meanwhile, south Georgia residents were bracing for high winds and heavy rains that could lead to flooding.
On Cumberland Island off the Georgia cost, the National Park Service was evacuating campers as the storm approached Thursday.
"My main concern is the winds," said chief park ranger Bridget Bohnet. "We're subject to trees falling and limbs breaking, and I don't want anybody getting hurt."
Forecasters were predicting the storm would pass through Georgia overnight, and the island would likely re-open to tourists Friday.
"It looks like it's picking up speed and that's a good thing because it won't sit and rain on us so long," said Jan Chamberlain, whose family runs the Blue Heron Inn Bed & Breakfast near the Sapelo Island Ferry station on Georgia's coast, on Thursday.
In the Carolinas, Andrea's biggest threat was heavy rain, with as much as 6 inches expected, the weather service said.
Forecasters didn't expect major problems, however, along the most vulnerable parts of the coast such as the Outer Banks, a popular tourist destination.
John Elardo, a meteorologist with the weather service in Newport, N.C., said the storm would push major waves to the north and northeast, away from the Outer Banks, where storms in the fall and winter wore away dunes and washed out portions of N.C. Highway 12, the only road connecting the barrier island to the mainland of North Carolina.
Andrea could bring up to a foot of flooding on the sound side of the Outer Banks, Elardo said.
The rain threatened to ruin a beach day for Angela Hursh, 41, of Cincinnati, who had rented a house in Frisco, N.C. Hursh was planning Friday to soak in the hot tub and watch movies with her 9-year-old and 13-year-old daughters.
"I think we're just going to hunker down and eat junk food," Hursh said Thursday.
Doug Brindley, who owns a vacation lodging rental service on the northern end of the Outer Banks near Virginia, said Thursday he expects all outdoor activities to be washed out Friday, driving tens of thousands of early-summer vacationers toward unexpected shopping sprees.
"We're going to have rain and wind," said Brindley, who owns Brindley Beach Vacations and Sales. "Retailers are going to love it."
In Cuba, heavy rains associated with the storm system have soaked the western part of the island for the past several days, overflowing rivers and damaging crops. At least 30 towns were cut off by flooding, and more than 2,600 people sought refuge from the rising waters at relatives' homes or state-run shelters, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported Thursday.