By BRIAN SKOLOFF
Associated Press Writer
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) -- Tropical Storm Fay hung offshore Thursday and poured more rain on Florida's central Atlantic coast after flooding hundreds of homes, trapping residents and leaving much of Florida a soggy mess.
Alligators, snakes and other wildlife were spotted in some flooded neighborhoods after high water drove the animals from their normal lairs.
Forecasters expected the storm to continue a zigzag course by hitting the state for a third time in a week, along with Georgia, but didn't think it would strengthen to a hurricane over the Atlantic.
The storm flooded hundreds of homes in Brevard and St. Lucie counties, some with up to 5 feet of water, forcing dozens of rescues. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was reviewing Gov. Charlie Crist's request for a federal emergency disaster declaration to defray rising debris and response costs.
"I want to stress that this storm is becoming a serious catastrophic flooding event," Crist said.
Water was still high Thursday in much of southern Brevard County and officials feared the northern sections would be inundated next.
Emergency management spokeswoman Kimberly Prosser said wildlife officers have received several calls about alligators and other animals spotted in flooded neighborhoods, but only two small alligators have been captured.
"In the past we've usually had flooding in pockets. I have not seen anything this widespread throughout the county," Prosser said.
About 10,200 homes and businesses in the county were without power early Thursday, and about 134 people spent the night in shelters, she said. The county is home to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, which has been closed to most workers and all visitors since Tuesday. The center reported no significant damage.
"We can't even get out of our house," said Billie Dayton of Port St. Lucie, as waters lapped at her porch. "We're just hoping that it doesn't rain anymore."
Fay could dump 30 inches of rain in some areas of Florida and the National Weather Service said nearly 25 inches had already fallen near Melbourne, just south of Cape Canaveral.
In Jacksonville, residents were told to expect the brunt of the storm later Thursday. With schools, government offices and many businesses closed, streets were quiet and traffic was light at what would normally be the start of rush hour.
John Place, at a local Wal-Mart, said he and his wife has been prepared for quite a while. "This is not a panic situation," he said. "If it was a Category 1, 2 or 3 (hurricane) making a direct hit on Jacksonville, you'd have something."
The southern half of the Georgia coast was under a tropical storm warning as the outer bands of Fay brought start-and-stop rains along the entire 100 miles of the state's coastline up to Savannah, which received more than an inch of rain Wednesday.
The National Weather Service said isolated flooding was possible in southern Georgia, where Fay was forecast to dump 3-6 inches of rain if it followed the predicted path south of the Georgia-Florida border through Friday.
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency said residents in the southern counties should stock up on enough food and water for three days. Isolated flooding and power outages were possible, said GEMA spokesman Ken Davis.
The storm was just off the Florida coast early Thursday but continued to dump heavy rain. At 8 a.m. EDT, the storm's center was essentially stalled, located about 20 miles east-southeast of Daytona Beach. It was expected to begin slowly moving toward the west-northwest later in the day, bringing heavy rains to northern Florida and southern Georgia.
Maximum sustained winds were near 60 mph. The National Hurricane Center said some strengthening was possible while the center was still over water. But the storm was expected to weaken after moving back over land.
The erratic storm first struck Monday in the Florida Keys, then veered out to sea before traversing east across the state, briefly strengthening, then stalling. For much of Wednesday, the storm barely moved, dumping inches and inches of rain over coastal central Florida.
If Fay strikes Florida again as expected, it would be just the fourth storm in recorded history to hit the peninsula with tropical storm intensity three separate times. The most recent was Hurricane Donna in 1960, said Daniel Brown, hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
No deaths have been reported in the state as a result of Fay, which formed over the weekend in the Atlantic and was blamed for 20 deaths in the Caribbean before hitting Florida's southwest coast.
Associated Press Writer Russ Bynum reported from Savannah, Ga.; Ron Word reported from Jacksonville; Lisa Orkin Emmanuel, Curt Anderson, Kelli Kennedy, Matt Sedensky and Travis Reed reported from Miami; Christine Armario reported in Tampa, Bill Kaczor and Brendan Farrington reported from Tallahassee and Sarah Larimer from Orlando.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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