MIAMI - The first named storm of the Atlantic season hammered Florida with rain, heavy winds, and tornadoes Thursday as it moved over land toward the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas, promising sloppy commutes and waterlogged vacation getaways through the beginning of the weekend.
Tropical Storm Andrea was not expected to strengthen into a hurricane but forecasters warned it could cause isolated flooding and storm surge before it loses steam over the next two days.
Tropical-storm warnings were in effect for a large section of Florida's west coast from Boca Grande to the Steinhatchee River and for the East Coast from Flagler Beach, Fla., all the way to Cape Charles Light in Virginia, and the lower Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort. A tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere inside the warning area within a day and a half.
As of 5 p.m. Tucson time Thursday, Andrea was about 45 miles west of Gainesville, after making landfall hours earlier in Florida's Big Bend area. Its maximum sustained winds had fallen to 50 mph and it was moving northeast at 15 mph.
Rains and winds from the storm were forecast to sweep northward along the Southeastern U.S. coast Thursday night and today. The storm was expected to lose steam by Saturday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said one of the biggest risks associated with the storm for Florida was the chance of tornadoes, eight of which had been confirmed Thursday across the state. Scott urged residents to remain vigilant.
"This one fortunately is a fast-moving storm," he said. Slower-moving storms can pose a greater flood risk because they have more time to linger and dump rain.
In The Acreage, a part of Palm Beach County, Fla., pre-kindergarten teacher Maria Cristina Arias choked back tears and clutched valuable personal papers as she surveyed the damage done by a tornado to her five-bedroom home when she was away. Windows were smashed and a neighbor's shed had crashed into her bedroom.
"It's all destroyed," she told The Palm Beach Post. "This is unbelievable. I don't know what we're going to do."
Another threat to Florida's coast was storm surge, said Eric Blake, a specialist at the Hurricane Center. The center said coastal areas from Tampa Bay north to the Aucilla River could see storm surge of 2 to 4 feet, if the peak surge coincides with high tide.
Gulf Islands National Seashore closed its campgrounds and the road that runs through the popular beachfront park Wednesday. The national seashore abuts Pensacola Beach and the park road frequently floods during heavy rains.
Altogether, 30 state parks closed their campgrounds in Florida.
Meanwhile, south Georgia residents were bracing for high winds and heavy rains that could lead to flooding. On Cumberland Island off the Georgia cost, the National Park Service was evacuating campers as the storm approached. Forecasters were predicting the storm would pass through Georgia overnight.