As if two destructive hurricanes this year weren't terrifying enough, a new round of torrential rains has given the so-called Sunshine State another problem to wrestle with - alligators.
Gators became a nuisance after as much as 20 inches of rain fell in parts of southern Florida in 24 hours, turning some neighborhoods into islands and sending alligators from flooded canals onto doorsteps."We thought it was a dog, but then we saw this huge gator about 10 to 12 feet long," Benjamin Borew said of the commotion he heard Wednesday at the gate of his Palm Beach County home.
"The fish and game agent said not to try to catch it or bother it," Borew said. "No problem there."
State game officials said they have received at least 20 reports of alligators in residential areas and were sending trappers to kill them. But they noted most gators fear humans and those less than 6 feet long are usually harmless.
"You know, they don't usually attack someone," said Lt. Jeff Ardelean of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. "They might take a bite out of a child, but they're not big enough to eat them."
Though the rains that began falling Sunday were expected to stop Thursday, hundreds of people have already been evac-u-ated from areas where waters were up to 3 feet inside homes and up to 5 feet in streets.
Gov. Lawton Chiles surveyed parts of Palm Beach and Martin counties by helicopter Wednesday, seeing for himself the water scooters and small boats zipping through flooded streets.
He later declared a state of emergency in Hendry, Martin, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties.
And for a state that has already endured direct hits from two deadly hurricanes - Erin in August and Opal earlier this month - this week's high water has only added to the toll of damaged and destroyed homes.
"You can see the piles of carpeting in driveways. There are rugs and other things hanging on fences and bushes," said Palm Beach County resident Leon Graybill.
About 250 people were evacuated in Palm Beach County and in Lee County on the southwest coast, 272 people were driven into shelters, for some the second time their homes have been flooded in the past six weeks.
"We helped some people put carpets back in their homes and replace their appliances," said Barbara Franz, emergency services director for the Red Cross in Lee County. "And now they are back in the shelters."