- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2008

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) | Emergency crews launched airboats into submerged streets Wednesday to rescue central Florida residents trapped by rising floodwaters from a stalled Tropical Storm Fay, which soaked the state for a third consecutive day.

Hundreds of homes were flooded in areas of Brevard and St. Lucie counties, some by up to 5 feet of standing water. In three towns, rising floodwaters backed up sewage systems. It wasn’t clear how many residents were stranded, but county officials reported making dozens of rescues.

“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.”

The Florida National Guard mobilized about a dozen guardsmen and some high-water vehicles to assist with damage assessments and help with evacuations, said Jon Myatt, spokesman for the Florida Department of Military Affairs.

The storm could dump 30 inches of rain in some areas of Florida. The National Hurricane Center said up to 22 inches already had fallen near Melbourne, just south of Cape Canaveral on the state’s central Atlantic coast.

Forecasters originally expected Fay to energize over the ocean and possibly become a hurricane before landing in Florida for the third time later this week. The erratic storm first struck Monday in the Florida Keys island chain, then veered out to sea before traversing east across the state, briefly strengthening before losing steam and stalling. The storm barely moved for most of Wednesday, dumping inches and inches of rain over central Florida.

“In some areas, it’s waist-deep,” said Erick Gill, a spokesman for St. Lucie County. “We’ve had reports of people having 3 to 5 feet of water in their home.”

Tom Christopher, St. Lucie County emergency management coordinator, said between 85 and 140 people were rescued by boat or high-clearance vehicle by Wednesday afternoon. He said no more were stranded, though other families seemed to be stuck without a way to leave.

Steve Grenon, 40, was sitting in the bed of his truck in front of his house. He said he had been holed up there for two days, unable to leave with water up to 6 feet deep in the street in front of him. A Dodge sedan was partly submerged in front of him.

“I had no idea what it looked like out there until today,” he said.

The storm remained near Cape Canaveral on Wednesday afternoon. Its maximum sustained winds were back up to about 50 mph, and it was expected to resume slowly moving north later Wednesday.

Mr. Gill said hundreds of homes had been flooded, though a count was incomplete. Homes also were flooded in Brevard County, said Bob Lay, the county’s emergency operations director. Floodwaters also had caused sewage to back up, affecting 40,000 to 50,000 people in three towns.

Fay formed over the weekend in the Atlantic and was blamed for 20 deaths in the Caribbean before hitting Florida’s southwest coast, where it first fell short of predictions it could be a Category 1 hurricane when it came ashore.

Though no one in Florida had been killed, some were close. Joe McMannis, 27, said he jumped into water to help three people in a submerged truck in Jensen Beach. He said the driver accidentally drove into a retention pond, confusing it for a driveway.

“I didn’t think it was going to be that deep,” he said. “It pretty much came up to my ears and chin. I saw this little kid coming toward me so I grabbed him and swam him back to the shoreline and went back for other two guys that were still stuck in there.”

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