FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A weakening Tropical Storm Barry plowed deeper into the Florida Panhandle early Monday, lashing the Gulf Coast with heavy rain and taking aim at Alabama.
``The main thing we're concerned with now is the flooding,'' said Trisha Wallace, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. ``It is moving so slowly it'll just continue to sit and dump rain.''
Hurricane warnings from Apalachicola westward to Fort Walton Beach were downgraded by the hurricane center to a tropical storm warning early Monday.
At 5 a.m. EDT, the storm's center was about 20 miles north of Crestview, just south of the Alabama border. Barry was moving north at 9 mph and maximum sustained winds were near 65 mph, with some higher gusts.
Forecasters expected Barry to steadily weaken as the storm spiraled over land. A tropical storm is designated a hurricane when its sustained wind speed reaches 74 mph.
``I think it's going to continue to have some tropical characteristics for some time,'' said Max Mayfield, director, National Hurricane Center. ``But it will likely be downgraded from a tropical storm to a tropical depression later this morning.''
Rain concerns continued across the Gulf Coast, with flood warnings issued for portions of Franklin, Liberty and Wakulla counties in northern Florida.
Wallace said that heavy rainfall of eight to 10 inches could be expected in northern Florida, southern Alabama and Georgia, while flooding was likely in portions of those areas. Isolated tornadoes were a possibility in the Panhandle.
Barry is the second named storm of the 2001 Atlantic hurricane season. The storm already had dumped more than a foot of rain on parts of Florida before moving into the Gulf of Mexico.
Eight Panhandle counties had issued advised residents to evacuate and Franklin County ordered evacuation for three islands. Six counties opened shelters, but most remained on standby, said Ann Rowe of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
Air Force officials said nearly 40 C-130 cargo aircraft and about 300 personnel from Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach had been sent to Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas to get them out of the storm's expected path. All flights were canceled at Pensacola Regional Airport.
Tammy Brown, a spokeswoman with Florida Power Corp., said 331 customers in the state lost power. Other electric companies in the area did not immediately return phone calls seeking estimates on power outages.
In Bay County, which includes Panama City, officials said less than a dozen roads were closed due to water and additional damage would be assessed later in the morning.
``It was just like a long heavy rainstorm,'' said Charles Goodman, a spokesman for the Bay County Emergency Operation Center. ``We've been through this before and our system works well.''
In Franklin County, one bridge connecting the county to Liberty County on Highway 67 was washed out. Workers were working on getting the road opened again, said Tim Turner, director of Franklin County Emergency Management.
In Okaloosa County, where Barry passed directly through, there were a few reports of trees down and some damaged roofs, said emergency manager George Collins.
``Until the sun comes up we're not going to have a full knowledge of what damage we had, but there appears to be fairly light damage,'' he said.