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Beryl, now a tropical storm, nears U.S. coast

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Evan Anderson, Carolina Beach Ocean Rescue squad leader, places a sign in the sand closing the beach to swimming on Saturday, May 26, 2012, at Carolina Beach, N.C., because of strong rip currents. (AP Photo/The Star-News, Matt Born)

ATLANTA — Tropical Storm Beryl already was wrecking some Memorial Day weekend plans on Sunday, sending shoreline campers packing to head inland and canceling some events in the southeastern United States.

Beryl was still well offshore, but officials in Georgia and Florida were bracing for drenching rains and driving winds. Campers at Cumberland Island, which is reachable only by boat, were told to leave by 4:45 p.m. The island has a number of undeveloped beaches and forests popular with campers.

However, many people seemed determined to make the best of the soggy forecast.

At Greyfield Inn, a 19th-century mansion and the only private inn on Cumberland Island, the rooms were nearly full Sunday, and everyone was planning to stay put through the wet weather, said Dawn Drake, who answered the phone at the inn’s office on the Florida coast.

In Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday’s jazz festival and Memorial Day ceremony were canceled. Workers are also out clearing tree limbs and debris that could be tossed about by the storm’s winds, which had reached 65 mph Sunday.

But business was booming at Red Dog Surf Shop in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., where customers flocked to buy boards and wax in anticipation of the storm’s high waves. Officials all along the coast warned of rip currents, waves and high tides — all of which can be dangerous but also tend to attract adventurous surfers.

Joe Murphy, a spokesman for the Ritz Carlton on Florida’s Amelia Island, said he was not seeing a flood of checkouts or people trying to get off the island. The hotel expected about 140 checkouts out of 466 rooms, he said.

Outdoor dining was moved inside, and the hotel set up movies and family game activities, but the hotel had no plans to board up or move patio furniture inside.

“So far, it’s kind of business as usual, but with that sort of anticipation of what does the storm mean,” Mr. Murphy said.

Beryl was centered about 110 miles east of Jacksonville and about 120 miles southeast of Brunswick, Ga. Current forecasts have it making landfall late Sunday or early Monday, though tropical storm conditions with heavy rain and wind were to reach shore hours sooner.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the entire Georgia coastline as well as parts of Florida and South Carolina. Once Beryl comes ashore, it was expected to continue dumping rain over parts of Florida and Georgia on Monday before slowly moving back out to sea.

On Tybee Island, a barrier island not far from Savannah, Ga., water off the beaches was closed for swimming Sunday. Tybee Island fire Chief C.L. Sasser said winds of up to 42 mph were creating “horrendous water currents.” Only people with flotation devices strapped or tethered to their bodies were being allowed into the water, and they were being cautioned to not venture in farther than knee-deep.

“Even if you’re standing in waist-deep water, the current can sweep you out quickly,” he said.

His ocean rescue team pulled a total of 48 people from the water on Saturday, he said, including about 27 that were considered to be in life-threatening conditions. One man who was sucked under the water was rescued by friends and onlookers and was taken to the hospital in serious condition.

A band of showers soaked the beaches late Sunday morning, causing crowds to thin, Chief Sasser said. With alternating rainy and sunny weather forecast throughout the day, he said he expected the crowds on the sands to ebb and flow.

In South Carolina, Janice Keith with the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau said the office hadn’t fielded any calls from concerned tourists.

In Beaufort County, David Zeoli, emergency management deputy director, said officials were continuing to monitor the storm and encourage people to have a plan in case conditions get worse.

Mr. Zeoli said winds had kicked up in the area that includes Hilton Head Island, a popular golf and beach destination. “It’s just a wet day here,” he said.

Kelli Kennedy reported from Miami. Meg Kinnard contributed to this report from Columbia, S.C.

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