WEATHER

Tropical Storm Beryl path: Beryl threatens Florida, Georgia coast

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - Tropical Storm Beryl threatened to soak military remembrance ceremonies and beach vacations on Memorial Day as it brought drenching rain, winds and the possibility of flooding to the southeastern U.S. coast.

The storm made landfall in Florida just after midnight Monday near Jacksonville Beach in Florida with near-hurricane-strength winds of 70 mph (113 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

The city of Jacksonville and surrounding counties declared states of emergencies.

Thousands lost power in southern Georgia and northeastern Florida, closing beaches and forcing the cancellation of many Memorial Day plans.

Except for ruining holiday plans, the rain was welcome along Georgia's 100-mile coast that's been parched by persistent drought. In McIntosh County south of Savannah, emergency management chief Ray Parker said a few roadways had been flooded for a brief time but the ground was quickly soaking up the 1 to 2 inches of rainfall that had fallen so far.

"We've needed it for a long time," said Parker, who said the worst damage in his county had been caused by trees falling on two homes overnight. "We were lucky that we didn't get 3 to 4 inches in 30 minutes. Most of it soaked right in before it had a chance to run off. It fell on an empty sponge."

Beryl was forecast to weaken as it moves inland Monday and Tuesday. And as a frontal system comes down from the Great Lakes, Beryl was expected to move out into the Atlantic Ocean. Georgia Power reported more than 3,000 people had lost power overnight. Jacksonville city officials say 20,000 were without power there.

The weather system is expected to complicate holiday traffic after ruining some weekend plans. It caused shoreline campers to pack up and head inland and led to the cancellation of some events.

"I don't mean to sound mushy, but I today is Memorial Day and I hate that it ruined some plans," said Glynn County, Ga., emergency management director Jay Wiggins. "But that's just the nature of the weather." His county between Savannah and Jacksonville also had some downed trees and power outages, but there the rain is also welcome.

"I know it had a lot of folks worried, but it certainly will help us," he said.

A tropical storm warning was in effect early Monday for coastal areas from Flagler Beach, Fla. to the Savannah River in Georgia. At 8 a.m., the storm was 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Jacksonville and was moving west near 8 mph (13 kph). The storm's maximum sustained winds had decreased to near 40 mph (65 kph).

Flood warnings were issued for areas in Florida around Jacksonville. Thousands in Florida were without power, The Florida Times-Union reported early Monday.

Beryl was expected to bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to parts, with some areas getting as much as 12 inches. Forecasters said the storm surge and high tide could bring 2 to 4 feet of flooding in northeastern Florida and Georgia, and 1 to 2 feet in southern South Carolina.

Campers at Cumberland Island, Ga., which is reachable only by boat, were told to leave by 4:45 p.m. Sunday. The island has a number of undeveloped beaches and forests popular with campers.

However, many people seemed determined to make the best of the soggy forecast Sunday.

In Georgia, at Greyfield Inn, a 19th-century mansion and the only private inn on Cumberland Island, the rooms were nearly full Sunday and everyone was planning to stay put through the wet weather, said Dawn Drake, who answered the phone at the inn's office on the Florida coast.

In Jacksonville, Sunday's jazz festival and Memorial Day ceremony were canceled.

But business was booming at the Red Dog Surf Shop in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., where customers flocked to buy boards and wax in anticipation of the storm's high waves. Officials along the coast warned of rip currents, waves and high tides - all of which can be dangerous but also tend to attract adventurous surfers. The Coast Guard said crews in Charleston Harbor in South Carolina rescued three people and a dog from a sinking recreational vessel late Sunday morning.

Farther north, Beryl wasn't such a brute. Although it kicked up the surf at Virginia Beach, where dozens of Memorial Day weekend swimmers had to be rescued from the strong currents. Warning flags were also up in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the major threat was from rip currents.

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