MELBOURNE, Fla. – Tropical Storm Fay hobbled across Florida for a fifth day Friday as the state's death toll rose to five, while residents began plodding through muddy water to assess the flood damage to their homes.
Fay has dumped more than two feet of rain along parts of Florida's low-lying central Atlantic coast and was making its third pass through the state in a week. Before Fay crosses the Panhandle over the weekend, it could bring four to eight inches in some areas.
Driving conditions on interstate highways in north Florida were difficult enough in a car, but Jim Frazier and Deb Fairchild were crossing the state on a motorcycle trying to get back to Illinois after a week in Daytona Beach.
"It's pretty brutal," said Frazier, 47, of Danville, Ill., adding the high winds have caused him to swerve several times on the highway.
State officials tallied storm casualties Friday, saying three people died in traffic accidents in the heavy rain and two others drowned in surf kicked up by the storm. Overall, the storm has been blamed for 28 deaths, most in the Caribbean. A man also died in Florida days before the storm while testing generators.
A 16-year-old girl died in Duval County when her car collided with an SUV after spinning on wet pavement Wednesday. A 44-year-old was killed when his truck rolled while going around a curve on a rain-soaked road Thursday, and a 43-year-old man died Wednesday in Indian River County when his vehicle spun and hit a traffic light post.
Two swimmers drowned in heavy surf Thursday on the Atlantic coast, a 21-year-old woman in Duval and a 35-year-old woman in Volusia County.
President Bush issued a federal disaster declaration Thursday for the affected parts of Florida, as hundreds of residents fled floodwaters that drove alligators and snakes out of their habitats and into streets.
At 11 a.m. EDT, the center of the storm was located about 45 miles northeast of Cedar Key with
sustained winds weakening slightly to near 45 mph. National Hurricane Center meteorologists say isolated tornadoes are possible over portions of northeastern Florida, southern Georgia and southern South Carolina.
A casino ship broke free early Friday morning then grounded in the St. Johns River east of the Jacksonville Pilot's Station, Coast Guard officials said. A small tug moored nearby pull the vessel free and towed the ship back to its berth.
Emergency officials planned to begin surveying damage along the coast Friday as the floodwaters slowly recede. In Brevard and St. Lucie Counties, residents welcomed the sight of muddy brown water lines on homes — signifying the receding of flood waters.
Friday morning, officials in Melbourne carried boats down streets where just a day earlier 4 feet of water made roads look like rivers. About 150 people in Brevard county were evacuated by authorities; 100 others left their homes voluntarily.
"You had people here who didn't want to leave but after a few days of being stranded, they were saying, 'OK, it's time to go,"' said Hector Rodriguez, who works for the private firm Critical Intervention Services, which was hired by property managers to assist with evacuations.
Water as high as several feet still remained in some parts of this neighborhood, but most of the area had drained, leaving behind a half-inch thick layer of muck and mud. One resident stood in his driveway boiling coffee on a propane grill.
Power outages plagued the area. As of 6:15 a.m. Friday, Jacksonville Electric Authority reported 66,000 customers without power.
The storm first made landfall in the Florida Keys earlier this week, then headed out over open water again before hitting a second time near Naples. It then advanced slowly across the state, popped back out into the Atlantic Ocean and struck again.
A tropical storm warning was posted for the Gulf coast of Florida from Aripeka in Hernando County to Indian Pass, and a tropical storm watch is also in effect from west of Indian Pass to Destin. There also was still a tropical storm warning on the Atlantic Coast from Sebastian Inlet, Fla., north to the Savannah River on the border between Georgia and South Carolina.