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Tropical Storm Beryl soaks Ga., Fla. coasts

Tropical Storm Beryl soaks southern Ga., northern Fla., ruining holiday beach plans By The Associated Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) ' Tropical Storm Beryl soaked beach vacations and some Memorial Day remembrance services in southern Georgia and northern Florida Monday, and knocked out power to tens of thousands, though emergency officials said it hasn't brought any major damage.

The storm made landfall 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. Sustained winds had died down to about 35 mph (55 kph), leading forecasters to cancel all tropical storm warnings and watches.

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 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 about 2,900 people were without power Monday morning. Jacksonville city officials say 20,000 were without power and bus service was canceled because of so many flooded roads, downed power lines and trees.

The weather system also would likely complicate things for returning holiday travelers, some of whom had to scrap their beach and camping trips early because of the weather. Cumberland Island National Seashore off the Georgia coast will be closed at least through Tuesday and park Superintendent Fred Boyles said campers were asked to leave the area Sunday. He said the park does not seem to have serious damage.

In northeast Florida, several Memorial Day events were canceled, including one honoring veterans at the St. Augustine National Cemetery and a parade in Palatka.

"I don't mean to sound mushy, but 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.


Associated Press writers Jennifer Kay from Miami, Kate Brumback from Atlanta, Meg Kinnard from Columbia, S.C., and Jackie Quinn from Washington contributed to this report.

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