TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Fay made a record fourth landfall in Florida on Saturday and pummeled the state’s northern panhandle with heavy rainfall as it prepared to cross into southern Alabama.
The storm killed 11 people as it crisscrossed Florida for the past week, state emergency management officials said.
Fay never reached hurricane strength as it advanced across the Caribbean, but it killed more than 50 people before reaching Florida, mostly in Haiti where a crowded bus was swept away by a rain-swollen river.
Forecasters expect the storm to leave Florida early on Sunday, but they dropped tropical storm warnings and watches west of the Alabama-Mississippi border. Earlier watches included New Orleans, which took the brunt of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Fay, the sixth storm of what experts predict will be a busy Atlantic hurricane season, will weaken as it continues westward over the next 24 hours, the U.S. National Hurricane Center predicted.
Up to 12 inches of rain can be expected over the next two days in the Florida Panhandle, southern and central portions of Alabama and Mississippi, southwestern Georgia and eastern Louisiana, the weather center said.
At 5 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Saturday, the center of the storm was about 55 miles east of Pensacola at the western end of the Florida Panhandle, it said.
Fay was moving west at 7 miles per hour (11 kph) and packing sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph), the center said.
The storm returned briefly to the Gulf of Mexico but turned inland early on Saturday, making landfall for a fourth time.
The storm dumped more than 20 inches of rain in places, including Port Canaveral, home of the U.S. space shuttle fleet. High water made it difficult for rescue workers to reach some storm victims until floodwaters subsided.
The deaths in Florida included an electrical worker who was killed in Tallahassee on Friday afternoon while trying to restore power to residents, and two women who drowned in heavy surf on Thursday in separate incidents along beaches off the state’s Atlantic coast, authorities said.
The other deaths occurred in traffic accidents and an incident in which a man died of carbon monoxide poisoning while testing two power generators.
On Friday, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist requested major federal disaster aid for counties along Florida’s east coast. The request would allow FEMA to make payments to individual homeowners, businesses and local governments.
Cleanup efforts have begun farther south in the Florida Keys and southwest Florida where the storm first made landfall last week.
“A lot of us certainly are suffering from Fay fatigue, but we’ve got to stay focused,” Crist told reporters on Friday.
The state has also asked the U.S. Labor Department for $20 million for humanitarian aid, temporary employment and grants of up to $5,000 to help businesses get back on their feet.
Editing by Anthony Boadle