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Tropical Storm Fay probably not headed to Lancaster Co.

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By Jenny Hartley

Local officials are keeping their eyes on a tropical storm in Florida with mixed emotions.

Tropical Storm Fay hit the Florida Keys on Monday afternoon. The storm could bring needed rain to the parched Carolinas, but it could also further damage the burned Lancaster County Courthouse.

"We really hope this tropical storm can drop some rain on us," said Mike Bailes, director of the Catawba River Water Treatment Plant. "Our groundwater is worse than it was this time last year."

Lancaster County is still about 17 inches behind on rain since the drought began last year.

Residents are following Stage 3 water restrictions, and may only wash their cars or water their lawns one day during the weekend.

Lancaster County felt no positive effects from tropical rains last year.

"We sure need a lot of water out of it," Bailes said. "Hurricanes and tropical storms are what get us out of droughts."

Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said Monday he was trying to get with officials from S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the architect working on emergency repairs to the courthouse, which was set on fire Aug. 4.

A contractor is removing asbestos from the burned building at DHEC's request. No work can begin on the second floor, which was badly damaged by the fire, until the asbestos is removed.

But Willis said he's hoping something can be worked out with DHEC to allow workers to put a temporary cover on the roof.

On the mostly intact first floor, it may be possible to use tarps to funnel water out of the building, Willis said.

Lancaster County Emergency Management Director Morris Russell said on Tuesday that it was looking less like Fay would head this way.

He had a conference call Tuesday morning with the S.C. Emergency Management Division and National Weather Service.

The storm is forecast to go through Florida and even possibly back to the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico.

"We may still be in line for some showers," Russell said. "But based on what they're telling me, I don't think it will be the type of rain event that will help our drought situation.'

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1151