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TROPICAL STORM HELENE SOAKING FLORIDA PANHANDLE

A weakened Tropical Storm Helene came ashore today in the Florida Panhandle, bringing bands of heavy rain to residents along the Gulf Coast.

The storm's center made landfall with top winds near 45 mph at about 8 a.m. near Fort Walton Beach, about 40 miles west of Panama City Beach. The heaviest rain fell to the east of the center.

Port St. Joe had received 4 1/2 inches of rain by 7 a.m.

The storm, which had weakened through the night from its strongest winds of 65 mph, was expected to weaken further as it moved into southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia at nearly 12 mph.

"It's going to be a rainfall event; everything will be to the east of the center," said Bill Frederick, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "Anything to the west of the center really isn't going to get very much."

Heavy rain preceded the storm's center by several hours, drenching Panama City Beach and points east earlier today.

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