Tropical Storm Fay rolled into southwestern Florida on Tuesday and stubbornly maintained strength, threatening – again – to become a hurricane.
The storm first hit the Florida Keys, veered out to sea and then traversed east across the state on a path that would curve it toward to the Florida-Georgia border. Its failure to weaken meant a whole new swath of the state had to prepare for a worse storm, and meant Florida could wind up getting hit three times.
“This storm is going to be with us for a while. That's obvious now. It looks it could be a boomerang storm,” Gov. Charlie Crist said at a news conference.
Earlier, it had appeared Fay would peter out and perhaps bring only heavy rains to the Southeast. But by late Tuesday, a hurricane watch was on for parts of north Florida and Georgia as Fay seemed resurrected by the flat, swampy Everglades, increasing the chances it could still grow into a hurricane. Its top sustained winds peaked at 65 mph, before falling to 50 mph late Tuesday. A hurricane has winds of at least 74 mph.
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Forecasters expected the storm to get a dose of energy Wednesday when it moves over the Atlantic Ocean.
At 11 p.m., the center of the storm was about 30 miles south-southwest of Melbourne and forecasters expected it to head north-northeast at about 5 mph overnight.
Eric Blake, a specialist at the National Hurricane Center, urged people not to focus too much on whether Fay was a tropical storm or a hurricane. Fay had fallen short of forecasts it could be a Category 1 hurricane when it came ashore Tuesday morning.
“A strong tropical storm can be very significant,” he said, pointing to wind damage in the state's interior and the possibility of flooding from up to 15 inches expected in parts of central Florida.
Fay formed over the weekend and was blamed for 14 deaths in the Carribean.
Though it flooded streets in Naples, downed trees and left some 95,000 homes and businesses in the dark, most Floridians thought they had dodged a bullet. The worst of the storm's wrath appeared to be 51 homes hit by a tornado in Brevard County, southeast of Orlando, nine of which were totaled, according to the Brevard County Emergency Operations Center.
Brevard County sheriff's deputies arrested three men for looting in the mobile home park, and a trapper was called to remove an alligator found wandering there.
Two injuries were reported in the Brevard County tornado, and a kitesurfer caught in a gust Monday was critically injured when he slammed into a building in front of the beach near Fort Lauderdale.
In South Florida, the worst problem was street flooding. Most businesses there even opted to go without any shutters or other window protection.