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New Storm Threatens Key West


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New Storm Threatens Key West

by Michelle Spitzer, Associated Press

Posted: September 19, 2005 11:00 am ET

(Key West, Florida) Officials ordered residents evacuated from the lower Florida Keys on Monday as Tropical Storm Rita churned toward the island chain, bringing with it a potential 8-foot storm surge. Hurricane warnings were posted.

The evacuation covers 40,000 residents living from below Marathon to Key West. The weather was expected to deteriorate throughout Monday with the approach of the first rain bands.

Rita, which strengthened Sunday into a tropical storm, had sustained winds of 60 mph as of 8 a.m., and could be a Level 1 hurricane by the time it passes the Keys.

By the coming weekend, a forecast track put it near Texas, and people in areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina were warned it could veer in their direction instead.

Key West streets were quiet as dawn broke Monday under clear skies. Visitors had been ordered out of the Keys on Sunday, as the storm was expected to pass to the south Tuesday.

Mike Pettengill, 54, of Stuart, was packing his Harley-Davidson motorcycle early Monday. He was hoping to beat the rain and traffic heading north and wanted to be able to find gas before stations close or run dry.

"We walked by a bar (Sunday) and heard there was an evacuation. We were totally shocked. I couldn't believe it. Where did it come from?" he said.

The entire Keys was under a hurricane warning, meaning hurricane force winds were expected within 36 hours, and Miami-Dade and Broward counties were under a tropical storm warning and hurricane watch. Rainfall totals of 6 to 15 inches were possible in the Keys, with 3 to 5 inches possible across southern Florida. Storm surges of 6 to 8 feet above normal tide levels were predicted to batter the Keys.

Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said Monday that the storm's eye is predicted to remain over the water between the Keys and Cuba, but even a slight deviation to the north could bring it over the islands and closer to the mainland Florida counties of Miami-Dade and Broward.

"Right now the biggest concern is the Keys," Mayfield said.

Long-range forecasts showed the system moving into the Gulf of Mexico late in the week as a hurricane, then possibly approaching Mexico or Texas.

But forecasters warned those across the U.S. southern coast that long-term predictions are subject to large errors. That means residents of Louisiana and Mississippi should be watching the storm.

"This is something everyone should be paying attention to," said Daniel Brown, a hurricane center meteorologist.

Officials had earlier Monday ordered all remaining visitors from the entire Keys.

"We're happy to get out of here before the storm comes," said Joan Taylor, 73, of Midland Park, N.J., who was planning to fly out of Key West on Monday.

Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency for Florida, which gives the state authority to oversee evacuations and activate the National Guard, among other powers.

Despite the evacuation order, however, some hotels and restaurants in Key West remained open, and few businesses were boarded up Sunday night.

©365Gay.com 2005


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