Fay's 4th Florida landfall is one for record books

Tropical Storm Fay crossed into the Florida Panhandle on Saturday, becoming the first storm of its kind in recorded history to hit the state four different times.

Fay's center made landfall around 1 a.m. EDT about 15 miles north-northeast of Apalachicola, according to the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center.

Fay was expected to finally leave the state on Saturday as it skirted across the Panhandle's coast and reached the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama on Sunday.

Though Fay never materialized into a hurricane, downpours along its zigzagging path have been punishing and deadly.

At least six people in Florida were dead from the storm, state officials said, and two more deaths reported Friday were believed to be Fay-related. The state attributed an additional death, before the storm hit, to hurricane preparedness after a man testing generators died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

"The damage from Fay is a reminder that a tropical storm does not have to reach a hurricane level to be dangerous and cause significant damage," said Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who toured flooded communities this week.

Crist on Friday asked the White House to elevate the disaster declaration President Bush issued to a major disaster declaration. Crist said the storm damaged 1,572 homes in Brevard County alone, dropping 25 inches of rain in Melbourne.

Counties in the Panhandle - including Bay, Escambia and Walton - opened their emergency operations centers Friday in preparation for the storm's expected arrival there.

In Steinhatchee, just south of Florida's Big Bend, bartender Dana Watson said she was bracing for a possible drenching. "It's moving real slow. We're waiting. We're just waiting."

In an area that can flood badly when high tide rolls in during a bad storm, she said most people remain prepared. "We've all got our generators filled up with gas and oil and our nonperishable food," Watson said.

At 8 a.m. Saturday, the center of the storm was located about 20 miles southeast of Panama City and moving west near 7 mph with sustained winds near 45 mph. The storm was expected to keep its strength and remain a tropical storm into Sunday.

Fay's wake caused widespread flooding along Florida's east coast, especially in Jacksonville near the storm's third landfall. Some areas of Duval County reported up to 20 inches of rain, and authorities reported an unknown number of homes and businesses flooded. Floodwaters began receding in some of the hardest-hit areas of South Florida.

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said almost 4,000 flood claims from Fay had been filed so far.

Fay has been an unusual storm, even by Florida standards. It first made landfall in the Florida Keys on Monday, then headed out over open water again before hitting a second time near Naples on the southwest coast. It limped across the state, popped back out into the Atlantic Ocean and struck again near Flagler Beach on the central coast. It was the first storm in almost 50 years to make three landfalls in the state, as most hit and exit within a day or two.