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Wet and windy, but Fay could have been worse

EVERGLADES CITY — Tropical Storm Fay blew ashore just south of Naples early Tuesday, inflicting little serious damage as it trekked across the state.

Fay knocked out power to thousands of Floridians, caused minor flooding and spun off at least four tornadoes. Only a few people were injured.

In the Tampa Bay area, Fay brought wind gusts up to 30 mph but only a sprinkling of rain, said National Weather Service meteorologist Nick Petro. The area felt only the dry, northwest corner of the storm.

"We dodged a bullet here," Petro said.

The National Hurricane Center said Fay made landfall at Cape Romano about 5 a.m. It moved northeast, leaving more than 110,000 customers without power.

A tornado in rural Glades County did little damage, but another in Brevard destroyed about 50 mobile homes and caused minor injuries, state officials said.

Kitesurfer Kevin Kearney, 28, was caught in a gust of wind Monday and critically injured when he slammed into a building near Fort Lauderdale.

Storm trackers predicted the storm would leave an average of 5 to 10 inches of rain across the state, mainly through southeast Florida.

Some areas could be sloshed with as much as 15 inches, said meteorologist Rebecca Waddington of the National Hurricane Center.

Minor damage was reported in the Florida Keys, where the storm passed Monday. It mostly affected the lightly populated center of the South Florida peninsula, where marshland may have helped it strengthen as it moved north.

In Everglades City, a few miles from the center's landfall, the storm proved a major headache for some. Others saw it as a fleeting nuisance.

The storm flooded many streets with 2 to 3 feet of water and sloshed some homes, said Mayor Sammy Hamilton. Crab and lobster fishermen in the city said it may have scattered or destroyed some of their traps, too.

Still, church bells clanged by midmorning and by noon the water had subsided enough that cars and trucks could move through town. A sign for Everglades tours near the entrance of town had lost a letter and read: "oat Rides."

Fay awoke Richard Collins before dawn. Outside his home, water surged over the sea wall. Streams of water and silky river mud made their way into the bottom floor of Collins' home.

Collins, 59, went back to bed after the storm woke him. He has lived there 26 years and has seen flooding a dozen times or more — "Every time a mouse farts out there.'' The flooding to his house this time was minor, Collins said.

He lost about a third of his crab traps in Hurricane Wilma in 2005 — which followed a similar track — and hoped his Florida lobster traps did better in Fay.

A few blocks away, Denise Johnson didn't hear a thing. Her rebuilt home passed the first test of this year's hurricane season.

Johnson and her husband, Kit, own one of the three buildings in town that were condemned after Wilma. She said a tornado ripped off the roof and rain destroyed everything else — including knickknacks and family photos.

Building codes required that the house be rebuilt solidly — new windows, stronger roof and insulation foam sprayed throughout the interior.

Johnson said her insurance wouldn't pay for all the requirements. She and Kit had to refinance.

But the house was unscathed by Fay. And the fact that the storm didn't even wake her gave Johnson comfort.

"Boy it was nice," she said. "They make you build to code for a reason. At the time I was (angry). But last night I was happy because I couldn't hear a thing."

Of course, Johnson, 47, knows Fay was no Wilma — a storm that flooded the streets with waist-deep water.

"Once you lose your roof and it's raining on your head in your own house — this ain't nothing," she said.

Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report, which includes information from Times wires.

Facts and figures

Fay came ashore about 5 a.m. Tuesday at Cape Romano, the same place Hurricane Wilma made landfall in 2005.

The storm knocked out power to more than 110,000 customers.

The National Weather Service reported four confirmed tornadoes — one each in Glades, Brevard, St. Lucie and Martin counties. Fifty mobile homes were damaged in Brevard, with few injuries.

Southern Florida was expected to receive 5 to 15 inches of rain by the time Fay passed out of the state early today.

Wet and windy, but Fay could have been worse 08/19/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 7:01am]
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