Crist: 'We're tired of Fay...glad she's gone'

August 25th, 2008

Florida Today--August 25, 2008


Gov. Charlie Crist called the White House Sunday from a restaurant dock afloat the flood-swollen St. Marks River to thank President Bush for declaring four Florida counties disaster areas.

Later, touring Wakulla County the day after Tropical Storm Fay dumped more than 10 inches, Crist said he is happy the tropical storm's week-long stay in Florida is over.

"We're tired of Fay and glad it looks like she's gone," Crist said.

Even diminished to a tropical depression and largely moved on, Fay continued to affect the state with rising river levels from Brevard County to the far Panhandle. Since its arrival in the Florida Keys a week ago, 11 deaths have been attributed to Fay.

The storm dumped more than 26 inches of rain on parts of Brevard County, where major flooding continues. Its march across North Florida brought more flooding, power outages and downed trees. Crist said the storm had caused millions of dollars in property and agricultural damage.

On Sunday, Crist went to the Riverside Cafe in tiny St. Marks on the Gulf of Mexico. It was there that he got word that Monroe, Okeechobee, Brevard and St. Lucie counties were included in the federal disaster declaration, allowing residents in those places to apply for individual aid.

Craig Fugate, director of emergency management for the state, said more counties could be added to the list as damage assessments continue.

Crist spoke to Stan West, owner of the Riverside, as the St. Marks flowed darkly, swiftly by at record flood levels. At 2 p.m. Sunday, the St. Marks was at 12.8 feet, measured at a gauge at Newport. That's higher than the historic rise for the river, exceeding the previous record when the waterway crested at 11.81 feet in April 1973. It is forecast to crest above 13 feet today, even though rains had largely left.

State meteorologist Ben Nelson said that's because heavy rainfall in the watershed will now drain into already swollen waterways. The St. Johns River and its complex path northward along the Atlantic Coast was rising, too, in already flood-ravaged Brevard County.

"All that water is falling into the basins to the north. That river level's going to stay up," Nelson said of the St. Marks. The same will be true of the St. Johns and Suwannee in North Florida and the Ochlockonee, Shoal and Blackwater rivers.

In Brevard County, the headwaters of the St. Johns River was at major flood stage. The St. Johns was at 10.2 feet Sunday afternoon, above its record level of 10.1 feet set in 1924. The gauge is at Geneva above Lake Harney.

In Wakulla County, West's Riverside Cafe was open for business Sunday — Crist ordered up two dozen oysters on the half shell, along with fried oysters and a Diet Coke that other state officials ate — after taking on ankle-deep water on Saturday from 2 to 3 feet of storm surge, windblown Gulf water, rain and a rising river.

Wendi Wilson of Woodville said her home had made it through unscathed, though she had to pump water from a pond on her land to keep it from her house. The Tallahassee Fire Department lieutenant was heading to check on a houseboat following the storm.

Shelters around the state emptied Sunday after a peak population of more than 900 on Friday.