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Fay hits Florida, but doesn't become hurricane

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By MATT SEDENSKY

Associated Press Writer

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) -- Tropical Storm Fay moved inland Tuesday after making landfall in southwest Florida, never growing into the hurricane that forecasters had cautioned it could become.

Traffic was light in Naples as rain swept roads littered with palm fronds and other minor debris. There was street flooding in spots, some downed trees and minor storm surge damage was reported in Everglades City to the south.

At the 7-Eleven near the beach in Naples, assistant manager Diana Eslick was getting ready for hungry surfers looking for food before they took advantage of Fay's waves.

"So far it's going good. We have power and everything. It's just been windy and rainy," she said.

At 1 p.m. EDT, the center of the Atlantic hurricane season's sixth named storm was near Moore Haven and was moving north-northeast near 8 mph. Maximum sustained winds rose 5 mph to 65 mph, which is unusual because the storm is mostly over land, away from its energy source of warm ocean waters. More fluctuations in intensity are expected as it crosses Florida to the Atlantic.

"We're still here," said Corey Knapp, resident manager of the Ivey House, a bed and breakfast in Everglades City. Water was knee deep on some side roads, but he said the storm was not as bad as he expected.

Forecasts for most of Monday had predicted a slight chance Fay would bring hurricane winds, which start at 74 mph, but that didn't happen.

Flooding remained a concern as Fay heads up the Florida peninsula, with rainfall amounts forecast between 5 and 10 inches. The storm could also push tides 1 to 3 feet above normal and spawn tornadoes.

Farther north, farmers in drought-stricken North and South Carolina were hoping for a drenching from Fay but may have to keep their fingers crossed for a few more days.

National Weather Service meteorologist Doug Outlaw said it was not clear whether the storm would track north to the Carolinas or veer west over Tennessee. A high pressure system was expected to stall it over Florida and Georgia this week.

In South Florida, most businesses opted to go without any shutters or other window protection. Of those that did, some plywood carried messages aimed at major storms from the past -- "Pop Off Charley" and "Oh Wilma!" among them.

With no major Florida hurricanes in the past two years, officials were worried complacency could cost lives as they repeatedly urged people across the state to take Fay seriously. But no storm-related deaths or major injuries have been reported.

Florida Power & Light reported about 58,000 homes and businesses without power in South Florida early Tuesday, the largest number in Collier County, where 28,000 were in the dark.

After crossing the Florida Keys without causing major damage Monday, Fay lumbered ashore about 5 a.m. Tuesday at Cape Romano, just south of Naples, with sustained winds of about 60 mph. Cape Romano is the same spot where Hurricane Wilma, a Category 3 storm, made landfall in October 2005.

In the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties lifted evacuation orders affecting mobile home residents and others in vulnerable areas when the storm failed to reach hurricane status. But schools and government offices remained closed.

"I think we're going to all enjoy a nice summer day," said Sally Bishop, Pinellas County's emergency management director.

Southwest Florida International Airport near Fort Myers operated normally Monday, but airlines postponed about 140 flights Tuesday until evening hours, spokeswoman Victoria Moreland said.

Warnings to people to take precautions were issued as Fay spread rain and sent wind gusts of up to 51 mph over the Keys on Monday.

Monroe County Mayor Mario Di Gennaro estimated 25,000 fled the Keys before Fay hit there Monday afternoon.

The state took every step to make sure it was prepared. National Guard troops were at the ready and more were waiting in reserve, and 20 truckloads of tarps, 200 truckloads of water and 52 truckloads of food were available for distribution.

As it moved though the Caribbean, Fay was blamed for at least 14 deaths in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, including two babies who were found in a river after a bus crash.

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Associated Press Writers Brian Skoloff, Kelli Kennedy and Travis Reed in the Keys, Christine Armario in Tampa, Tamara Lush in Punta Gorda, Lisa Orkin Emmanuel in Miami, Bill Kaczor and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee and Sarah Larimer in Orlando contributed to this story.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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