Fay’s remnants soak drought-parched South

Published 4:13 pm Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The remnants of Tropical Storm Fay spread over a wide swath of the South on Monday, bringing heavy rain and wind from Georgia to Louisiana that many hoped would help land parched for months by drought conditions.

Floridians, meanwhile, continued to mop up floodwaters created by the storm that stuck around for a week and made a historic four landfalls, dumping more than 30 inches of rain along the central Atlantic coast. Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, dressed in blue jeans and a golf shirt, helped an elderly woman out of a boat that had taken her from her inundated home.

“It just started raining and it didn’t want to stop,” said the woman, Hazel Hayes.

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The National Weather Service said the vestiges of Fay would deluge northern Georgia on Monday and Tuesday with 3 to 5 inches of rain expected in the Atlanta area and up to 8 inches in northeast Georgia. In Alabama, flash flood and tornado warnings were posted.

In Georgia, farmers began assessing damage to crops. The storm’s high wind and torrential rain seemed to take the heaviest toll on Georgia’s $128 million pecan crop, especially in southern counties along the Florida line, according to preliminary assessments. Pecan grower Tom Stone’s well-tended orchards were in shambles.

“I was devastated,” he said after surveying the damage. “We’ve lost 50 percent of the crop. We knew we were going to get a little rain, but we didn’t know we were going to get all this wind and rain together.”

The tropical blast also toppled corn stalks throughout southern Georgia and blew some tobacco leaves off their stalks. The moist conditions also make cotton plants vulnerable to a disease known as boll rot.

“If we don’t dry out … the cotton is going to be impacted a lot more than it is right now,” said Deron Rehberg, extension coordinator in Grady County.

Georgia climatologist David Stooksbury said the rain will improve stream flows, pastures and slightly raise the levels of major reservoirs, including Lake Lanier, which is the main source of drinking water for metro Atlanta.

“It will not end the drought. It will make a dent,” he said.

The rain was good news in some areas of North Carolina’s drought-stricken mountains, where up to an inch of rain fell Monday. Lack of rain there has caused stream flows to suffer. The French Broad River near in western North Carolina has had the lowest levels since records were started in 1895.

Fay was blamed for 23 deaths in the Carribean and 13 in the U.S. The Carribbean, meanwhile, was bracing for another hit after Tropical Storm Gustav formed Monday. Hurricane warnings were posted for the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the storm was on path to hit Haiti’s southern coast as a hurricane Tuesday morning before moving on to Cuba, the Bahamas and Florida.