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Alberto after landfall: Threat of heavy rains, flooding

(AP) -- Subtropical Storm Alberto rumbled inland Monday after its Memorial Day strike on the Gulf Coast, driving holiday beachgoers away amid heavy rains that raised a dangerous flood threat around the South.

Forecasters warned that heavy downpours from the vast storm system are increasing the potential for life-threatening flash floods across north Florida, much of Alabama and large areas of Georgia — and elsewhere around the Southeast.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Alberto was centered about 7 p.m. Monday near the community of DeFuniak Springs in the Florida Panhandle after its Monday afternoon landfall nearby. With maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph), Alberto was crawling north at 10 mph (17 kph) as it began taking aim at the Southeast.

Authorities did not immediately attribute any deaths or injuries directly to Alberto. But in North Carolina, a television news anchor and a photojournalist were killed Monday when a tree that had been uprooted from rain-soaked ground toppled on a TV vehicle as the two reported on severe weather on the fringes of the huge system, hundreds of miles (kilometers) from Alberto's center.

More rain is on the way. Between four and eight inches (10-25 centimeters) of rain could soak the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, and western Georgia before the storm moves on. Isolated deluges of 12 inches (30 centimeters) also are possible.

Forecasters said Alberto could then become a subtropical depression during the night before spreading rains Tuesday over the Tennessee Valley and later in the week around the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region.

Meanwhile, potentially life-threatening rough surf and rip currents continued on the northern Gulf Coast after Alberto rolled up big waves and tides along the coast. Lifeguards posted red flags along the white sands of Pensacola Beach, where swimming and wading were banned as Alberto disrupted long holiday weekend plans for millions.

The storm forced some Memorial Day tributes to be cancelled across Florida's Panhandle. Safety was the priority, but the decision was still a "heartbreaker," said Tom Rice, a 29-year-old Army veteran who leads the organizations that had planned a ceremony Monday at Beal Memorial Cemetery in Fort Walton Beach.

Some stragglers still made their way through the rain to pay tribute at the cemetery's Veterans Tribute Tower, however. Rice said American flags had been placed Saturday on the graves of all 1,700 veterans buried in the cemetery.

"We got the flags out," Rice told the Northwest Florida Daily News as wind whipped a massive U.S. flag flying at half-staff. "That's what's important."

Along the Florida Panhandle, tourists vowed Alberto wouldn't dampen their vacations.

Jason Powell sought to keep his children entertained with movies and TV until Alberto blows past his pristine Florida vacation spot.

"So far we've seen a lot of wind and the ocean is really high, covering up the entire beach," Powell said.

Janet Rhumes said her group of friends from Kansas had been planning their Memorial Day weekend on Navarre Beach since October. They stocked up on groceries and settled in for card games. "We've never seen one before and we're here celebrating a friend's 20th birthday," Rhumes told the Daily News. "So how often can you say you rode a storm out?"

Elsewhere, Florida's Division of Emergency Management said, about 2,600 customers were without power for a time in northwestern Florida on Monday.

As Alberto's center heads inland it is being deprived of the warm waters that fuel tropical weather systems, causing it to weaken, forecasters said. In coming hours it was expected to become a subtropical depression.

A subtropical storm has a less defined and cooler center than a tropical storm, and its strongest winds are found farther from its center. And some of its rain bands spread hundreds of miles (kilometers) away from the core of the storm.

Elsewhere, the North Carolina Highway Patrol said, a large tree toppled on a news television vehicle Monday near Tryon, North Carolina. WYFF-TV of Greenville, South Carolina, said a news anchor, Mike McCormick, and photojournalist, Aaron Smeltzer, with that station were both killed.


McCormick and Smeltzer had just interviewed Tryon Fire Chief Geoffrey Tennant as they covered storms in North Carolina.

"Ten minutes later we get the call and it was them," Tennant said at a news conference, his voice cracking.

Tennant did not directly blame the up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain that fell Monday from the fringes of Alberto for the deaths. He said the roots of a large tree that toppled on the vehicle came loose from ground saturated by a week's worth of earlier rain.

The men died instantly, their TV vehicle's engine still running, Tennant said.

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