CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Tropical storm Dennis, packing a stiff watery punch and 50 mph winds, toyed with the South Carolina coast today, chasing ships and planes from their bases and threatening to gather near hurricane force before blasting ashore.
In its wake Dennis left massive flooding and one dead in Florida.
At noon EDT the storm was centered near latitude 31.5 north, longitude 80.5 west or about about 45 miles east of Savannah, Ga.
Forecasters had predicted Dennis would make a landfall at Charleston later this afternoon, but in its late advisory, the weather agency said there were indications the storm may be turning toward the northeast.
'Should this occur, landfall will be delayed and winds could increase to near hurricane force' of 74 mph, the weather bureau warned.
Military vessels steamed for open seas in advance of the storm, and Air Force jets were evacuated. The Coast Guard warned pilots of commercial ships and pleasure craft that the intracoastal waterway might soon be closed to all but emergency and government traffic.
'We've sent out just about everything we had in port,' Charleston Naval Base spokesman Tom Morgan said.
'We sent out destroyers, frigates, submarine tenders, a destroyer tender, a cruiser -- basically, all our surface ships,' he said. 'We're talking about 5,000 to 7,000 sailors.'
In the Myrtle Beach area, motel and hotel proprietors reported an increase in the number of checkouts, but at the Isle of Palms Beach and Racquet Club marina near Charleston, attendant Steve Jordan said, 'We are just waiting.
'Mostly what we have done is secured the docks a little better, and a few of the small-boat owners have come and gotten their boats,' Jordan said.
Police in flooded Dade County, Florida said a man whose car swerved out of control in heavy water on rural street and hit a palm tree was Dennis' first sure casualty.
Many south Floridians who were hoping Dennis would help alleviate the state's months-long water shortage got more than they bargained for - flooded streets, power outages, evacuations and snarled traffic.
Over a three day period, Dennis dumped 19.83 inches of rain on suburban Kendale Lakes and 18.84 inches on the farming community of Homestead. Both are south of Miami.
Forecasters, meanwhile, were watching a new tropical depression that formed Tuesday in the central Atlantic, 1,200 miles east of the Leeward Islands. Forecaster John Hope said the depression, with highest winds of 35 mph, was expected to move west for several days and could intensify into a tropical storm.
Dennis became a tropical storm in the eastern Atlantic Aug. 6, but by the time it got to the Carribean Aug. 11 it had lost its punch. It regained strength four days later and swept over Cuba.
When it cleared the Cuban coast Sunday morning it was packing winds of 55 mph and south Florida residents awoke to the possibily of a hurricane. But Dennis stabilized and caused little notice as it passed over the Florida Keys and went ashore in the desolate l0 Thousand Islands region Monday morning.
Later that day it parked itself west of Lake Okeechobee and spawned the downpour Monday night and Tuesday morning that awoke some residents with a start.
'I woke up and I reached down to get my cigarets and they were floating,' said Eugene Krackenberger of Homestead.
Several youths plied the streets south of Miami in canoes and rowboats and some even caught fish.
'We got some bream and a bunch of minnows and guppies,' said Fred Saunders, 16.
Ten high axle trucks and 20 National Guardsmen authorized by Gov. Bob Graham helped in the evacuation of 25 homes and dozens of other families left on their own.
Three emergency shelters were opened for the homeless Tuesday but only about a dozen people took advantage of them that night as waters began to recede.
Florida Power & Light reported that power was lost to about 100,000 customers at one time or another in the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach areas over the three-day period.
'About as fast as we fix one section, another one goes out,' spokesman Dave Woolverton said.
Bill Corbett had another complaint as he stood in front of his father's paint store.
'The thing about this is that the paint labels get wet and they fall off and you don't know what you have,' he said.
Although some rain fell on Lake Okeechobee, the primary reservoir for south Florida's 4.5 million residents, water management officials said they were afraid it wouldn't be enough to alleviate potential water shortages in the area.
A cloudseeding program to produce rain over the 700-square-mile lake was expected to resume later in the week.