Fay weakens to tropical depression

Sunday, August 24th 2008, 8:38 am
By: News 9

(CNN) -- Tropical Storm Fay weakened to a depression Saturday night, but heavy winds and flooding could continue for several days, the National Hurricane Center said.

The storm had battered the central and upper coast of Florida with heavy rain and severe flooding since making landfall in southwest Florida on Tuesday morning. It has been blamed for 11 Florida deaths and one in Georgia.

By Saturday night, tropical storm warnings along the northeastern coast of the Gulf of Mexico had been discontinued as the depression continued a general westward movement at about 8 mph.

At 11 p.m. ET, Fay was about 60 miles east of Mobile, Alabama. The tropical depression was expected to move over southern Alabama and Mississippi on Sunday and make its way over eastern Louisiana on Monday.

Maximum sustained winds were near 35 mph, but they were expected to gradually weaken, the agency said.

The Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans, Louisiana, activated its flood-watch teams Saturday in anticipation of Tropical Storm Fay's westward movement.

Fay, which hugged Florida's Gulf Coast on Saturday, had been forecast to make landfall north of Lake Pontchartrain on Sunday afternoon and move west into Baton Rouge on Monday and Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said. The lake is north of New Orleans.

Teams will "mobilize to their duty stations 8 a.m. Sunday and monitor canals and levees in the city," the Corps said in a statement Saturday.

Col. Alvin Lee, New Orleans District commander, said the actions were "precautionary measures for the safety of the public."

"We are prepared to close the gates and run the pumps should the need arise."

After Hurricane Katrina flooded most of New Orleans in 2005, the Corps took responsibility for not having built sufficient levees against flooding.

Mobile County opened five shelters and called in swift-water rescue teams in anticipation of flooding, said Steve Huffman, spokesman for the county's emergency management agency.

"The storm is actually weakening; that's not to say we're not going to have rain," Huffman said. "We're still expecting some flooding because of this. We've got everything on standby. Hopefully it won't come to that."

The hurricane center said isolated areas of eastern Louisiana could get 20 inches of rain. In Florida, rainfall totals by Friday afternoon reached 26.65 inches in Melbourne, 22.83 at Cape Canaveral and 20.75 at Palm Shores.

Fay is expected to produce rainfall accumulations of 6 to 12 inches over the next two days across the western portion of northern Florida, the Florida Panhandle, southwestern Georgia, the southern and central portions of Mississippi and Alabama and eastern Louisiana, the hurricane center said.

"Regardless of its exact track, Fay will be moving rather slowly during the next several days, posing a significant heavy rainfall and flood hazard to a very large area," the hurricane center said.

The storm made its sixth landfall Saturday morning -- its fourth in Florida -- as it moved slowly westward at a 7-mph pace.

"It's making me miserable," said Lauren Bowers, who was at work at the Boston Market restaurant in Tallahassee, Florida, as rain fell in sheets. "I'd rather be at home than at work."

Bowers was at Daytona Beach, Florida, this week when Fay struck there. Then the storm swung back, heading west.

"I thought I'd be done with it," she said. "You just feel soggy."

Eleven deaths in Florida were attributed to Fay. Another death was reported in Cairo, Georgia -- about 35 miles north of Tallahassee, Florida -- where a teenager playing near a drainage area was swept away in rising waters, the National Weather Service reported.

Fay's torrential rainfall and powerful winds struck southern and central Florida from the Gulf to the Atlantic this week before turning west and recrossing the state, leaving floodwaters that have caused millions of dollars in damage.

Florida officials said Saturday that they have requested a presidential declaration for areas hit by Fay that would provide individual assistance to eligible residents.

President Bush has approved an emergency declaration for all counties in Florida. That money can be used for debris removal and other costs associated with the storm.