‘It’s not over yet’

Aug 20, 2008

Pensacola News-Journal--August 20, 2008

Jim Ash
News Journal capital bureau chief

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist today urged Floridians to continue tracking Tropical Storm Fay as the massive, poorly organized system churned slowly up the eastern coast of the state.

“Do not travel until local officials tell you that it’s safe,” Crist said. “When you see flooded roads, turn around. It’s just common sense. We have to take this seriously, this is a serious event.”

Fay was stalled over Cape Canaveral in Brevard County this morning. Fay lost some punch, with winds slowing to 45 mph, and is not expected to strengthen to a hurricane, but tornados and flooding remain a dangerous threat, said Division of Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate.

“Some of the most devastating floods in the country have been tied to tropical storms and tropical depressions,” Fugate said.

Fay is expected to continue slowly moving northward before taking a westward turn and following the Interstate 10 corridor, possibly as far as the Northern Gulf of Mexico.

State meteorologist Ben Nelson said Fay has already spawned six tornados and the intensity of the twisters is not related to the strength or weakness of the tropical system.

“Pay attention to what your local forecasts from the National Weather Service,” Nelson said.

Florida Department of Health Secretary Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros said Collier County is under a boil-water order until further notice. Residents should not use tap water for cooking or washing dishes or to prepare infant formula, Ros said.

Water should be boiled for at least a minute before using, she said. Private well owners who experienced flooding should follow the same procedures, Ros said.

So far, Fay has been blamed for one death, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Chief Gerald Bailey. The county medical examiner confirmed today that a 54-year-old man in Highlands County died from carbon monoxide poisoning after testing a gasoline-powered generator in his enclosed garage, Bailey said.

Officials were withholding his name.

Three minor injuries were confirmed in Barefoot Bay in southern Brevard County, Fugate said. More than 50 homes were damaged when a tornado touched down Tuesday, although some of the property damage was minor, Fugate said. It was too early to calculate the total amount of damages.

“It’s still raining very heavily there,” Fugate said.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said state regulators were heading to Barefoot Bay to make sure that storm victims are not preyed on by unlicensed insurance adjusters.

Attorney General Bill McCollum was dispatching 20 law enforcement officers to 200 nursing homes and other facilities in Monroe, Collier and Lee counties to check on Medicaid recipients.

“In the aftermath of the storms, it’s important to ensure the safety and security of our vulnerable citizens,” McCollum said.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning said early voting will be suspended today in Martin, St. Lucie, Brevard, Flagler and Duval counties, with more suspensions expected as the storm moves north. However, Browning said he has no plans to ask Crist to suspend the Aug. 26 primary.

“That is not my hope or desire,” he said.

Crist said he would not do so unless Browning recommends it.

National Guard troops and other first responders were fanning out across the state to all counties south of Orlando to make damage assessments, Fugate said.

Fay’s march north is expected to bring heavy flooding to coastal areas north of Cape Canaveral, including Jacksonville, where the local waterways are still brimming from heavy winter rains, Nelson said. Fay is also expected to bring heavy beach erosion and dangerous rip currents.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is urging boaters to check on their vessels as soon as the storm has passed to make sure they have not become a navigation hazard or are leaking hazardous materials.

“It’s the owner’s responsibility to make sure that their boat is secure,” Fugate said.

Col. Julie Jones, director of law enforcement for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said game officers were investigating whether the escape of a lion and a tiger from a 5-acre private sanctuary in Palm Beach County was storm related.

Three schools in the nearby area were temporarily locked down.

“Florida Fish and Wildlife officers are on the scene, and I’m confident there is no danger to the public,” Jones said.

The state Emergency Operations Center is expected to remain on a Level-1, 24-hour activation throughout the weekend, Fugate said.

“This is not over. It’s still raining and it’s raining hard,” Fugate said.