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macon.com MIDDAY UPDATE: Florida braces for hit from Tropical Storm Fay; Rice, European allies to discuss Russian response; Atlanta's largest mosque unveiled

Some Key West stores were shuttered today while others stubbornly remained open as rain and wind gusts from Tropical Storm Fay began to lash at south Florida after the storm claimed up to 35 lives in the Caribbean.

Roughly 25,000 tourists had evacuated, Monroe County Mayor Mario Di Gennaro said, but some bars and restaurants were doing business, even if crowds were considerably thinner than typical for this time of year. At the Stuffed Pig restaurant in Marathon, about a dozen locals had breakfast this morning, not worried but prepared for the storm.

Fay, the sixth named storm of the 2008 Atlantic season, left at least five people dead in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. A Haitian lawmaker said another 30 people may have died in a bus crash blamed on the storm.

Forecasters said Fay is expected to near hurricane strength, which starts at windspeeds of 74 mph, when it reaches the Keys later today. Aside from wind damage, most of the islands sit at sea level and could face some limited flooding from Fay’s storm surge.

The exact track is not clear but the storm is expected to hit the Keys and then the western coast of Florida, forecasters said.

Anywhere from 4 to 10 inches of rain are possible, so flooding is a threat even far from where the center comes ashore, said Stacy Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.

A hurricane watch was in effect for most of the Keys and along Florida’s west coast.

Early today, a tropical storm warning was issued for Florida’s east coast from Sebastian Inlet southward and along Florida’s west coast from Bonita Beach southward, including Lake Okeechobee.

– Associated Press

Rice, European allies to discuss Russian response

The U.S. will argue at a NATO ministers meeting for a unified response to punish Russia for invading Georgia, even as officials say Moscow has positioned missile launchers in the separatist South Ossetia province.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed to Europe today to talk with NATO allies about what message the West should send to Russia about the military intervention. Amid worsening relations with Moscow, NATO foreign ministers were expected to review a range of military, ministerial and other upcoming activities planned with Russia — and decide case by case at the meeting Tuesday whether to cancel each activity.

Allied ministers also will discuss support for a planned international monitoring mission in the region and a package of support to help Georgia rebuild infrastructure damaged in its devastating defeat at the hands of the Russian armed forces.

Russia can’t use ‘‘disproportionate force’’ against Georgia and still be welcomed by international institutions, Rice said Sunday. ‘‘It’s not going to happen that way,’’ she said. ‘‘Russia will pay a price.’’

How far NATO goes in curtailing relations with Moscow will depend on the situation on the ground as doubts remain about Russia’s implementation of a peace plan brokered by the European Union.

Russia said its military began to withdraw from the conflict zone in Georgia today, but left unclear exactly where troops and tanks will operate under the cease-fire that ended days of fighting in the former Soviet republic.

– Associated Press

Atlanta’s largest mosque unveiled

Atlanta’s Muslim community is celebrating the opening of a $10 million mosque that’s been decades in the making.

Al-Farooq Masjid, which opened along 14th Street Northwest Sunday, becomes the city’s largest mosque.

The 46,000-square-foot structure can house 1,100 in its main prayer hall and features a 65-foot-high dome.

Inside, carved travertine stone details and intricate, geometric, hand-painted designs greet the 80,000 estimated Muslims in metro Atlanta.

Khalid Siddiq is a Cobb County resident and longtime leader in Atlanta’s Muslim community.

He and a group of other men began planning for a mosque in the late ’70s. Siddiq says he wasn’t sure if they would see its creation in their lifetime.

– Associated Press

WHAT'S COMING UP ON MACON.COM

– We'll update you on the boat explosion that happened Friday at Lake Sinclair.

– Macon City Council committees will meet today, and one is expected to take up Mayor Robert Reichert's annexation request. Come back to our Web site for details.

VISIT US AGAIN SOON

We invite you to check out our Web site again tomorrow for the Midday Update. Monday through Friday, Online Editor Beth MacFadyen will bring you timely information about what Telegraph staffers are working on, plus news we think you need to know immediately. Send feedback to bmacfadyen@macon.com

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