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Fay leaves behind lots of water for Fla. lake

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[August 28, 2008]  WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Tropical Storm Fay brought some good news to the state's parched Everglades and its liquid heart, Lake Okeechobee -- lots and lots of water.

The lake, a backup drinking water source for 5 million people, rose more than 2 feet in a single week. That's about 288 billion gallons, equivalent to about 84 days worth of water used in South Florida for drinking, watering lawns and other purposes.

Auto RepairIt was the first time since record-keeping started in 1931 that the lake saw such a dramatic rise, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

Lake Okeechobee was at about 13.6 feet on Wednesday, up from about 11.3 feet Aug. 19, during the first part of Fay's nearly weeklong slog through the state.

Fay also swelled the rainfall total for August so far to about 10.6 inches throughout the district's 16-county region from Orlando to the Keys, a welcome sight in an area that has suffered a two-year drought. That's about double the typical amount for this time of year.


Across the state, Fay dropped more than 30 inches of rain in some places along the Atlantic coast, causing widespread flooding.

Lake Okeechobee's water level hit an all-time record low of about 8.8 feet in July last year, prompting officials to issue the region's most severe water restrictions ever, limiting outside watering of yards and gardens to once a week.

Those restrictions were later eased as the state entered its wet season, but even with Fay, water managers warn the drought may continue.

South Floridians in the region consume about 3.4 billion gallons of water a day, about 50 percent of it used outside for irrigation. The state estimates that number will rise to about 4.3 billion gallons a day by 2025.

Lake Okeechobee levels were expected to continue rising, possibly more than a foot in coming weeks, from Fay's rains falling in the Kissimmee River basin that feeds the lake.

The water district operates a 2,000-mile grid of drainage canals across South Florida, and lowered levels throughout the system to lessen the risk of flooding, sending water out to sea as Fay approached.

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Nursing Homes

But many neighborhoods in hard-hit areas along Florida's Atlantic coast saw flooding of 5 feet of water or more and are still dealing with the mess more than a week after Fay came ashore in Key West, then slogged slowly up the state.

In other fallout from Fay, survey crews from the National Weather Service Office in Birmingham, Ala., confirmed that eight tornadoes touched down in the state Monday. They were blamed for property damage in five counties but there were no reported injuries.

Fay's remnants were soaking North Carolina on Wednesday, flooding streams and prompting evacuations of low-lying homes around the Charlotte area. Several funnel clouds were reported, but tornado touchdowns had not been confirmed. No deaths or serious injuries were reported.

State damage-assessment teams were headed to the flooded areas and emergency officials opened shelters for those who could be evacuated Wednesday night as the rains continued.

In Georgia, officials declared a state of emergency in seven counties hit hard by Fay's remnants. A National Weather Service survey Wednesday determined that five tornadoes had touched down Tuesday in northeast Georgia, damaging homes and schools and destroying several mobile homes.

[Associated Press; By BRIAN SKOLOFF]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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