Fay comes this way

Published 7:05 pm Friday, August 22, 2008

Pull out your hip boots and umbrellas, the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay should dump from 3-to-6 inches in the Black Belt through Sunday.

The storm finally got on track Friday to make its way out of Florida.

The fickle storm that stuck around for five days in the Sunshine State carved a dizzying path that included three separate landfalls dumped more than two feet of rain in some places. Now, it is expected to veer west over the Panhandle before leaving for good later in the weekend, and on it way through southern Georgia, Alabama and into Mississippi.

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A wind advisory is in effect from until 7 p.m. today, according to the National Weather Service in Birmingham, for Perry and Dallas counties. A flash flood watch is in effect through Sunday evening.

Pam Cook, director of the Dallas County Emergency Management Agency, said she doesn’t expect any widespread flooding of homes or property damage because the Alabama River is low and the ground is dry. “We’re so dry, the ground is going to suck it up,” she said.

As rains approach, the U.S. Drought Monitor said there are no exceptional drought areas in Alabama. There was a reduction in extreme drought conditions statewide this week from 15 to 13 percent, the report said. Those ares are mostly concentrated in central and northeast counties.However, she said, heavy rainfall of several inches in a couple of hours will cause some flash flooding in the usual places.

In Selma that’s along Dallas and Water avenues and Broad Street. “Nearly anywhere in the downtown area,” she said. “There are some area prone to flooding in rural areas, too.”

Cook encourages people to stay indoors as it begins to rain and pay attention to the weather through various media. “there’s always the potential for an isolated thunderstorm or tornado,” she said.

Winds are expected to gust from 25 to 35 mph as the remains of the tropical storm rumble through the region. Cook suggested homeowners take precautions to keep patio umbrellas, furniture and other items from flying off.

Dallas and Perry counties are expected to get off lighter than residents farther south.

Forecasters in Mobile have said Fay could dump 8-15 inches of rain on the coastal area, depending on how fast the storm moves, and cause significant flooding. The storm arrives at the end of the summer tourist season on the Alabama Gulf coast when students have returned to school.

Farmers in South Alabama, however, have worried that heavy rains from Fay could rot some cotton — unless the sun breaks through soon after the storm passes — and hamper corn harvests.

On Friday, the storm’s death toll rose to six in Florida and nearly 30 overall since Fay first struck in the Caribbean. Florida officials said four people died in traffic accidents in the heavy rain and two others drowned in surf kicked up by the storm. Before the storm ever blew through Florida, a man testing generators as a precaution also was killed.

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said so far nearly 4,000 flood claims from Fay have been filed. Tens of thousands of people from Melbourne to Jacksonville to Gainesville were without electricity, and residents of Florida’s storm-stricken Atlantic coast face a weekend of cleanup after chest-high flooding.

On Friday, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, asked the White House to elevate the disaster declaration President Bush issued Thursday 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 in preparation for the storm’s arrival there.