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.
Brevard County officials estimated building damage would cost $12 million, mostly from flooding, and $2.6 million in damage from beach erosion.
"This is the worst I've absolutely ever seen it," said Mike White, 57, who was rescued by the National Guard as water crept up to the door of his mobile home.
Rising waters from Fay flooded a Central Florida hospital's emergency room entrance and forced officials to divert patients away from the facility Thursday night, reports CBS affiliate WKMG-TV in Orlando
"This is definitely something we consider very serious," Florida Hospital Fish Memorial Administrator Joe Johnson said. "We are looking at an 'all hands on deck' kind of thing where we call in extra help. This is not something you see every day."
Flood victims were warned about rivers of raw sewage possibly flowing through some Florida neighborhoods, reports WKMGM
The state's surgeon general, Ana Viamonte Ros, notified Floridians Thursday about fecal matter danger created by the stalled weather system.
"We just wanted to reiterate again the importance of making sure children do not play in flooded areas," Viamonte Ros said. "We have had reports of raw sewage in some of these flooded plains. Please make sure children (stay out) because there could be downed powered lines (and) there is sewage."
Fay, which was responsible for at least 23 deaths in the Caribbean and two in Florida, is just the fourth storm in recorded history to hit the Florida peninsula with tropical storm intensity three separate times. The most recent was Hurricane Donna in 1960, according to Daniel Brown, a specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
Police said an Indiana tourist drowned after going swimming in rough waters churned up by the storm at Neptune Beach. To the south in Volusia County, authorities reported a second woman also drowned in Fay-generated waves.
Flooding was also possible in Georgia, where the southern half of the state's Atlantic coastline was under a tropical storm warning. Some parts of Georgia could get up to 6 inches of rain.
In the town of St. Marys, Mary Neff watched the rain from the Spencer House Inn, which she owns with her husband.
"We're pulling in our plants and porch furniture, making sure we have our supplies and gas for the generator," said Neff, who had three couples cancel weekend reservations. "I still think we all need to stay on our toes."
Fay hovered for hours just off the Florida coast Thursday before creeping ashore again. At 8 p.m. EDT, the storm was located just west of Flagler Beach and was moving west at about 2 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. It still had maximum sustained winds of 60 mph but was forecast to gradually weaken.
A tropical storm watch was posted for the Gulf coast of Florida from the Suwannee River to Indian Pass, in case the storm emerges over water again.
With the rain moving to the north, the sun began to dry out some Florida neighborhoods hit by floods earlier in the week. The mood was considerably brighter for many residents who were finally able to get out of their homes.
"I'm ready to get back to work. This is insane. It'll drive you nuts being stuck like this," said Barry Johnson, 44, of Port St. Lucie.