(AP) – KEY WEST, Fla. -- Some Key West stores were shuttered Monday while others stubbornly remained open as rain and wind gusts from Tropical Storm Fay began to lash at south Florida after the storm claimed up to 35 lives in the Caribbean.
Roughly 25,000 tourists had evacuated, Monroe County Mayor Mario Di Gennaro said, but some bars and restaurants were doing business, even if crowds were considerably thinner than typical for this time of year. At the Stuffed Pig restaurant in Marathon, about a dozen locals had breakfast Monday morning, not worried but prepared for the storm
"We always prepare, we don't take it lightly," owner Michael Cinque said. "We might roll down the shutters. We got built-in generators."
Further north in the Keys town of Marathon, Home Depot assistant manager Denis Lee said it seemed like a normal Monday despite the approaching storm.
"Everybody seems to be acting like this is a non-event," Lee said.
Fay, the sixth named storm of the 2008 Atlantic season, left at least five people dead in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. A Haitian lawmaker said another 30 people may have died in a bus crash blamed on the storm.
Forecasters said Fay is expected to near hurricane strength, which starts at windspeeds of 74 mph, when it reaches the Keys later Monday. Aside from wind damage, most of the islands sit at sea level and could face some limited flooding from Fay's storm surge.
The exact track is not clear but the storm is expected to hit the Keys and then the western coast of Florida, forecasters said.
Anywhere from 4 to 10 inches of rain are possible, so flooding is a threat even far from where the center comes ashore, said Stacy Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
"We don't want people to focus on the exact track. This is a broad, really diffuse storm. All the Florida Keys and all the Florida peninsula are going to feel the effects of this storm, no matter where the center makes landfall," he said. "We don't want people to downplay this."
Gov. Charlie Crist said at a news conference in Tallahassee that 500 National Guard troops have been activated but will not be dispatched until it's clear when and where they are needed.