August 22, 2008 in Nation/World

Soaked Floridians coping with gators displaced by Fay

By BRIAN SKOLOFF Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

National Guard troops and local law enforcement officers wade through water in Melbourne, Fla., on Thursday, helping residents evacuate from the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Fay.
(Full-size photo)

MELBOURNE, Fla. – As if a fourth straight day of rain from Tropical Storm Fay wasn’t enough, weary residents are now dealing with quintessentially Floridian fallout: alligators, snakes and other critters driven from their swampy lairs into flooded streets, backyards and doorsteps.

National Guardsman Steve Johnson was wading through hip-deep water Wednesday night when his flashlight revealed an alligator drifting through a neighborhood of flooded mobile homes.

“I said, ‘The heck is that?’ and there was an alligator floating by,” Johnson said. “I took my flashlight and was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, a big old alligator swimming around here?’ ”

The erratic and stubborn storm has dumped more than 2 feet of rain along parts of Florida’s low-lying central Atlantic coast this week. The system continued its slow, wet march Thursday by curving back from the ocean to hit the state for a third time.

Alligators live in all 67 Florida counties, and state officials say they receive more than 18,000 alligator-related complaints each year. But the floodwaters heighten the risk of an encounter with people because the creatures search for a safe place to wait out the storm.

“They are trying to find dry land, someplace to hide,” said Officer Lenny Salberg of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The threat of alligators, snakes and other creatures is one more problem confronting weary residents as they clean up their waterlogged homes. At least two alligators were captured in residential neighborhoods, and several others were spotted near homes.

In Carla Viotto’s backyard in Indialantic, outside of Melbourne, snakes were swimming around in 4 inches of water.

“It looked just like a junk yard,” she said.

Flooding was especially acute along the Atlantic coast from Port St. Lucie to Cape Canaveral, with water reaching depths of 5 feet in some neighborhoods. Gov. Charlie Crist visited the area Thursday, and President Bush issued a federal disaster declaration for the affected parts of Florida to help with the storm’s costs.

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