4 Florida Counties Declared Disaster Areas in Fay's Wake

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The remnants of Tropical Storm Fay lingered Sunday, forcing residents in several parts of northern Florida to leave their homes as floodwaters rose.

Officials used boats to ferry people from homes in DeBary, 25 miles north of Orlando, where some streets were under four feet of water, and from several neighborhoods in and around Tallahassee.

"The water is very deep. It's already at everybody's door," said Debra Galloway, who lives in the Timber Lake subdivision just east of Tallahassee. She was still at home Sunday evening but had no power and said if the rain continued she would join neighbors who had already left by boat.

About 70 homes in DeBary were under an evacuation order after ponds spilled over. A handful of people were taken out by boat, while others were able to leave on their own, county emergency officials said.

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Fay made landfall a record four times in Florida before it was downgraded to a tropical depression late Saturday. The storm caused plenty of flooding as it zigzagged across Florida for nearly a week.

The storm has been blamed for 13 deaths in the U.S., 11 in Florida and one each in Alabama and Georgia. A total of 23 died in Haiti and the Dominican Republic from flooding.

Its remnants were forecast to dump several inches of rain across Alabama, Mississippi, eastern Louisiana and Tennessee on Sunday and Monday.

Water continued to rise in some parts of Florida Sunday as President Bush declared four hard-hit counties there disaster areas. The declaration makes funds available for emergency work and repairs to governments in Brevard, Monroe, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties. More could be added later.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who requested the disaster declaration last week, on Sunday visited the site of heavy flooding in Wakulla County in the Florida Panhandle.

"I think this storm is close to being over," Crist told Red Cross volunteers at a church that had housed 18 people Saturday night. "I don't know of one staying here longer."

Crist stopped at the Riverside Cafe on the banks of the St. Marks River, where a pole indicates the water level of past storms. While Hurricane Dennis brought four feet of water in 2005, owner Stan West said Fay brought only about six inches.

"God was good to us," West said as he served fried and raw oysters to Crist and other state officials.

But forecasters said West and others along the St. Marks River and other waterways may not be in the clear.

"This is the rainy season for Florida, so must likely they are going to see rain," said Todd Hamill, a forecaster at the Southeast River Forecast Center in Georgia. "That will make things a little more volatile."

The St. Marks River was recorded at 6.9 feet on Friday. On Sunday, it was at 12.89 feet, and it may take some time for the water to recede, Hamill said.

The 310-mile St. Johns River, which runs north from central Florida to the far northeast corner of the state, is also the most swollen it has been since the 2005 hurricane season, Hamill said. On Wednesday, it was 3.5 feet at one point. Four days later, it was at 10.2 feet.

"The water had no where to go, it went into the rivers and now it's going to take a lot of time for that water to run through the system," he said.

In other states, the rain was welcome. Some of the areas expected to get heavy rains Sunday and Monday have been suffering long-term drought conditions.

In Huntsville, Ala., National Weather Service senior forecaster Andy Kula said the five-day rainfall projection through Friday — 6 to 7 inches south of the Tennessee River and 3 to 4 inches north of the river — would spread out and was not expected to create a flood problem.

"We need something like this to recharge the soil. It probably won't be a total drought-buster," Kula said Sunday.