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Southeast states prepare as Tropical Storm Beryl threatens

Tropical Storm Beryl was wrecking some Memorial Day weekend plans Sunday, causing shoreline campers to pack up and head inland and leading to the cancellation of some events as the storm approached the Southeastern United States.

Beryl was still well offshore, but officials in Georgia and Florida were bracing for drenching rains and driving winds.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Sunday evening that Beryl was approaching hurricane strength and was expected to make landfall late Sunday or early today.

Beryl had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, just below hurricane-strength, which is 75 mph. It was not expected to strengthen much more and should weaken after making landfall. The hurricane center said the Jacksonville pier was already reporting winds of 50 mph. Beryl was moving westward at 10 mph.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged Florida residents in the affected areas to "stay alert and aware."

"Tropical Storm Beryl is expected to bring heavy rain and winds, and it is vital to continue to monitor local news reports and listen to the advice of local emergency management officials," Scott said in a statement Sunday evening.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the Georgia coastline, as well as parts of Florida and South Carolina.

Beryl is expected to bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to parts, with some areas getting as much as 12 inches. Forecasters predict that the storm surge and tide will cause some coastal flooding in northeastern Florida, Georgia and southern South Carolina.

Campers at Cumberland Island, Ga., which is reachable only by boat, were told to leave by 4:45 p.m. The island has a number of undeveloped beaches and forests popular with campers.

In Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday's jazz festival and Memorial Day ceremony were canceled. Workers were also out clearing tree limbs and debris that could be tossed about by the storm's winds. Winds had already knocked down tree limbs and power lines in parts of coastal Georgia, leaving hundreds without electricity.

Once Beryl comes ashore, it is expected to continue dumping rain over parts of Florida and Georgia today before heading north and then out to sea. It was expected to weaken to a tropical depression by tonight.

On Tybee Island, a barrier island not far from Savannah, water off the beaches was closed for swimming Sunday. Tybee Island Fire Chief C.L. Sasser said winds of up to 42 mph were creating "horrendous water currents." Only people with flotation devices strapped or tethered to their bodies were being allowed into the water, and they were being cautioned not to venture in farther than knee deep.

"Even if you're standing in waist-deep water, the current can sweep you out quickly," he said.

His ocean rescue team pulled 48 people from the water Saturday, he said, including about 27 in life-threatening conditions.