PERRY, Fla. (AP) _ Josephine pushed a windy, rainy mess across Florida's swampy western coast today, forcing people into shelters, flooding roads and scattering tornadoes across the state. It brought more soggy weather to Georgia and the Carolinas as it headed to the northeast.

The storm's broad center made landfall at the peak of high tide, just after midnight. Downgraded from a tropical storm as it moved over land, it then crossed the northern part of the state and into Georgia, bringing heavy rain across a wide area.

By 5 a.m. the storm was off the Georgia coast, 50 miles southeast of Savannah, moving east-northeast at 25 mph. While the center was out to sea, the storm was expected to bring rain along much of the East Coast by tonight.

The tropical storm never did reach hurricane strength of 74 mph as had been feared, hovering just underneath that level as it approached land Monday. And officials looking at the damage this morning said it could have been worse.

``We look like we're pretty lucky,'' said Oscar Garner, emergency management director in Taylor County, where the storm came ashore.

At daylight, some motels and homes in the Steinhatchee area had water in them from a storm surge 5 to 7 feet higher than normal, but early checks revealed no wind damage.

The fast-moving storm lashed the Gulf Coast of Florida late Monday night with 65 mph winds and high surf. Rainfall totals of more than 6 inches were reported in some areas already soggy from rainfall from an unrelated storm over the weekend. Nine tornadoes were reported across Florida.

``My car was virtually a submarine,'' 17-year-old Patrick Espiritu told The Tampa Tribune, after trying to drive his father's white BMW to higher ground in New Port Richey in southwest Florida. ``The water was up above the doors.''

Hundreds of Gulf Coast residents hunkered down in candle-lighted shelters, hoping for the best.

``I got here because my house was standing in water and I have a pecan tree that could fall in my yard,'' said Johnny Geathers, who was in a Leon County shelter.

In Camden County, Ga., along the Atlantic coast, 10 families were forced from their homes Monday night after heavy rain caused flooding that inundated their living rooms. An elementary school opened as a shelter. Brunswick, Ga., in neighboring Glynn County, reported nearly 7 inches of rain.

In Florida, shoppers on Monday snapped up bottled water and canned goods, schools closed early and commuters stewed in traffic jams aggravated by street flooding.

At the Shell Point Marina near St. Marks, boaters struggled in gusts and driving rain to double up their mooring lines as the storm approached, and worried about the storm surge.

``This could be serious if the wind pushes the water in here,'' said Frank Hanna, who had secured his 36-foot sloop. ``We might lose the floating docks and all the boats tied to it.''

Tourists who traveled to Florida for a sunny vacation found themselves braving a storm.

``We drove here and saw the big billboard that said `The Sunshine State,''' said Betty Albright, who arrived Saturday from Martinsburg, W.Va., ``and all we've seen is rain.''