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Floridians Brace for Debby

August 23, 2000

MIAMI (AP) _ Debby weakened to a tropical storm Wednesday and was still hundreds of miles away, but it was likely to grow again and many people weren’t taking any chances.

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

``I think it might hit. It’s coming so fast,″ Mirla Sotolongo said as she piled plywood in her shopping cart Tuesday at a Home Depot. ``When they issue the warning, everybody is going to run out there and I’d rather avoid that. Better to be safe than sorry.″

``It’s good to be prepared because even if the hurricane doesn’t hit, we may still get blackouts,″ said Clara Milanes, 64, who bought a battery-powered light and candles at a Wal-Mart.

By 11 a.m. Wednesday, Debby was about 155 miles southeast of the Bahamas’ Grand Turk Island _ about 790 miles southeast of Miami _ and its forward motion had slowed slightly to 16 mph.

Its maximum sustained wind had weakened to 70 mph, making it a tropical storm, but it was expected to regain hurricane strength _ at least 74 mph _ as it crosses warm, open water, the National Hurricane Center said. A hurricane warning was posted for the north coast of Cuba.

A hurricane watch could be posted for South Florida late Wednesday, said forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

``It could be powerfully close by Friday,″ said Michael Tichacek, a satellite meteorologist at the hurricane center. ``We easily here in South Florida would be in the hurricane warning.″

Florida’s state emergency operations center in Tallahassee could go to a higher staffing level Wednesday, said spokesman Ian Smith.

``We’re like everybody else,″ said Elizabeth Hirst, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jeb Bush. ``In the wait-and-see mode.″

The last hurricane to hit South Florida was Irene, blamed for seven deaths last October. Irene formed in the northwestern Caribbean and had sustained wind of 103 mph.

Irene slapped the Florida Keys with gusty wind and flooded much of the resort city of Key West and parts of South Florida with up to 10 inches of rain. Parts of Miami-Dade County remained flooded a month after Irene passed.


On the Net:

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

Hurricane Central: http://www.weatherpoint.com/hc/home/0,1916,oso,00.html

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