Fay Strikes Florida as a Tropical Storm, Could Strengthen

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    NEWSLETTERS

    MIAMI, Florida, August 18, 2008 (ENS) - The center of Tropical Storm Fay made landfall over Key West Florida at 3 pm local time after claiming as many as 11 lives in the Dominican Republic and Haiti on its way across the Caribbean.

    An uneven path and rapid cycles of strengthening and weakening winds have made Fay's movements difficult to predict. Still, forecasters warn that Fay could escalate quickly as it crosses the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico towards Florida's Gulf coast later today.

    "Fay is expected to reach hurricane strength in the southeastern Gulf," said James Franklin, a forecaster with the National Hurricane Center.

    The storm is forecast to hit land again near Tampa on Tuesday afternoon and move straight north into Georgia.

    Fay is moving to the north-northwest near 14 miles per hour with maximum sustained winds that remain near 60 mph, the National Hurricane Center says. Additional strengthening is expected and Fay could become a Category 1 hurricane later today if winds hit 74 mph or higher.

    The sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, Fay is expected to move through the Florida Keys before turning northward and moving inland over southwest Florida Tuesday morning.

    Heavy rainfall of up to eight inches is possible across the Florida Peninsula, with isolated higher amounts up to 10 inches. A Flood Watch has been issued for all of south Florida, the Treasure Coast, northeast Florida, western central Florida and southwest Florida.

    The threat for tornadoes and waterspouts will increase today across southern Florida and a Tornado Watch is in effect until 11 pm Monday night for South Florida, south of Lake Okeechobee.

    Under an evacuation order issued Sunday, tourists hustled onto buses and planes heading north - Monroe County Mayor Mario Di Gennaro estimated 25,000 left the Keys.

    Florida Governor Charlie Crist called a state of emergency when the evacuations began. "Tropical Storm Fay threatens the state with a major disaster," he wrote in an executive order.

    Many residents evacuated too in response to official urgings, but others decided to sit this one out, buying gasoline, bulk water and cans of food to be prepared if the power goes out and stores are closed.

    Business owners put up hurricane shutters and boarded up windows in preparation, but the storm does not appear to have caused much damage initially.

    Florida Power & Light officials say the company is ready to respond to power outages. "There are still uncertainties in both the forecast track and intensity, but it's likely that the storm will disrupt service to some of our customers. FPL is in a state of readiness," said FPL President Armando Olivera. "We have a plan of action to restore power safely and as quickly as possible."

    {Photo: Tropical Storm Fay makes landfall on Key West by Carla Arena}

    Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.