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Tropical Storm Colin barrels toward Florida; state guard activated
[TAMPA] Tropical Storm Colin unleashed thunderstorms and flooding on Florida on Monday, prompting the governor to activate the national guard as the storm with 50-mph-winds barreled through the Gulf of Mexico toward the state's northwest coast.
The storm, about 165 miles (265 km) from the Florida coast as of 2 pm (1800 GMT), was forecast to dump as much as 8 inches (20 cm) of rain in some parts of the state. The combination of the storm surge and high tides threatened to bring flooding to coastal areas from Florida up through North Carolina, the National Hurricane Centre in Miami said.
The storm was forecast to make landfall below Florida's panhandle late on Monday afternoon, on a track that would take it over the state and through southern Georgia and then along the Atlantic Ocean coast over South Carolina and North Carolina, the centre said.
Governor Rick Scott said more than 6,000 Florida National Guard members were activated and ready for deployment. He also declared a state of emergency in 34 of the state's 67 counties.
Rip tides, lightning, tornado and hail posed dangers to communities far beyond Colin's immediate path, Mr Scott said.
"It's going to impact pretty much our entire state," Mr Scott told a news conference.
In the St Petersburg beach town of Gulfport, roads were already flooded. One resident used a kayak to float down a thoroughfare past a waterfront cafe that stayed open, allowing people used to severe weather to witness the storm.
More than 10,000 customers were without power ahead of the storm making landfall, local utilities reported.
"This is a mild tempest," said Trace Taylor, a local writer lunching on onion rings. "What's there to be afraid of? It's just water and it's not that bad."
The storm also threatened crops in Florida, the country's biggest citrus producer, which sent US orange juice futures on Monday to their highest in more than two years.
Concerns about storm surges exacerbated by high tides prompted voluntary evacuations in low-lying areas of Franklin County, Florida, about 70 miles (110 km) southwest of Tallahassee.
Flooding and isolated tornadoes threatened densely populated communities from south of the Tampa Bay region through Jacksonville on the east coast, according to the National Weather Service.
Waters could rise by one to three feet (30 cm to 90 cm) along the state's western coast from the storm surges.
Colin is part of a brisk start to the Atlantic hurricane season that runs through Nov 30. Over the US Memorial Day holiday weekend, the Carolinas were lashed by heavy rain and winds from Tropical Storm Bonnie.