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Tropical Storm Debby Heads to Fla.

August 24, 2000

PUERTO PLATA, Dominican Republic (AP) _ Emergency workers evacuated dozens of people from riverside shacks in the Dominican Republic and gusty rain tore roofs off homes in Haiti as Tropical Storm Debby skirted the island of Hispaniola.

Debby was downgraded from a hurricane when it lost some force Wednesday morning and was further disrupted by the mountains of Hispaniola.

``It’s good news for the people of southeast Florida and the Bahamas,″ said forecaster Michelle Huber of the National Hurricane Center. She said there was less chance now of Debby becoming a dangerous hurricane with over 100 mph winds than was earlier feared.

Still, officials in the Florida Keys on Wednesday ordered visitors to evacuate and also shut down all schools.

Outer rainbands dumped heavy rain on northern Haiti overnight, tearing away tin roofs from shanties and flooding some homes in the northwest town of Port-de-Paix, police reported.

Trucks with megaphones patrolled the streets of Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second-largest city, broadcasting warnings of the coming storm.

Soldiers in the Bahamas deployed on several southern islands Tuesday and more were being sent to other islands Wednesday ahead of the storm.

At 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Debby was centered off Monte Cristi, in the Dominican Republic, and about 45 miles from Cap Haitien. It was moving west near 18 mph and was expected to keep that track through Wednesday.

Winds were down to 60 mph and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it was expected to get even weaker. Tropical storm-force winds extended 175 miles from the center.

Before dawn Wednesday, emergency workers from the Dominican Civil Defense woke up people living alongside rivers in the resort town of Puerto Plata _ fearing the rivers would overflow their banks _ and sent them to relatives or some of the 50 shelters. Deputy director Ojilbiz Mercado said 250 people were evacuated in Puerto Plata.

But Debby’s strongest winds faced out to sea and it was hard to tell it was so close with the sun peeking occasionally through sun and drizzle.

In Cabarete resort village, 27-year-old Sandrine Kowalik of Paris said the hurricane was making her vacation ``more exciting.″

``It’s something that we’re not used to in France,″ she said as she walked along a calm beach. ``It’s a very small one, right?″

A 15-minute drive away, street vendor Placido Padilla, 53, watched high waves breaking over garbage strewn on the beach less than 100 feet from his home.

``They should have brought the army in here because people don’t want to leave unless everbody leaves,″ he said.

The rain had caused open sewers to overflow into muddy roads where children played.

In Florida, emergency officials urged southern residents to pay close attention to weather reports. ``We’re like everybody else,″ said Elizabeth Hirst, spokeswoman for Gov. Jeb Bush. ``In the wait-and-see mode.″

South Floridians stuffed shopping carts with bottled water, canned food, milk, batteries and other emergency supplies _ just in case.

``It’s good to be prepared because even if the hurricane doesn’t hit, we may still get blackouts,″ said Clara Milanes, 64.

Forecasters said they may post a hurricane watch in south Florida on Wednesday.

Hurricane warnings were posted for the Turks and Caicos, the southeastern Bahamas and the northern Dominican Republic. Cuba posted a hurricane watch for its north coast and added parts of the south coast on Wednesday. A hurricane watch was in effect for the rest of the Bahamas and northern Haiti.

As a relatively minor hurricane on Tuesday, Debby brought some rain and little apparent damage to the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and a number of small islands such as Antigua and Anguilla.

``This storm was quite confusing in terms of all the various changes it made,″ said Gene Walker, head of the Virgin Islands’ emergency response agency. ``We were supposed to have had heavy rainfall some 10 to 12 inches of rain, and today that was changed to 5 inches.″

In Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of 4 million people, torrents of rain pelted down seven hours after the passage of the storm, flooding and closing some major roads in San Juan, the capital.

On Tuesday, a 78-year-old man died in a San Juan suburb when he slipped from his roof while trying to dismantle an antenna before the storm.

The HOVENSA oil refinery on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix, which cut back production Monday and Tuesday, planned to resume normal operations Wednesday.

In Dutch St. Maarten, battered in recent years by a series of hurricanes, officials reported no damage and reopened the airport.

Out in the northern Atlantic, Hurricane Alberto, the longest-lived August tropical storm on record, became an extra tropical cyclone. Alberto formed Aug. 4.

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On the Net:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov

University of Puerto Rico’s page: http://www.Upr.Clu.Edu/Nws

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