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Hurricane Watch for Parts of Florida

August 28, 2006

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) _ The National Hurricane Center posted a hurricane watch on Monday for the southern tip of the Florida Peninsula, including the Keys and the Miami area, as Tropical Storm Ernesto drew closer and threatened to strengthen.

The watch _ in effect south of Deerfield Beach, near Boca Raton, on the east coast and south of Chokoloskee on the west coast _ meant hurricane conditions with sustained wind of at least 74 mph were possible within 36 hours.

The Florida Keys were put under a watch Sunday afternoon.

The area was extended north of the Keys because Ernesto could become a hurricane again after it reaches the warm water north of Cuba, the hurricane center said. Forecasters said there was a 10 percent chance of hurricane-force wind striking South Florida and a 60 percent chance of tropical storm-force wind.

Gov. Jeb Bush had already issued a state of emergency on Sunday for all of Florida, which has been hit by seven hurricanes and brushed by another in the past two years.

Visitors were ordered out of the Keys, where only one highway is available for evacuation, travel trailers and recreational vehicles were ordered out and residents of mobile homes were urged to evacuate.

Preparations were made to evacuate special-needs residents of the Keys to Miami.

At Cape Canaveral, NASA managers gave up on a Tuesday space shuttle launch and prepared to move Atlantis indoors if the storm continued to threaten.

Some residents of the low-lying Keys island chain flocked to grocery stores and home-supply warehouses to stock up on canned goods, bottled water and other storm essentials.

``Key Westers are used to this,″ said Jim Bernard, assistant manager at a Home Depot in Key West.

Dan Drum, 56, a contractor who has been living in Key West since 1977, was waiting when Home Depot opened early Monday. He said he was going to spend part of the day securing a property he owns in Sugarloaf Key.

``I just bought $55 worth of screws. That’s all they had,″ he said.

At 8 a.m., the fifth named storm of the hurricane season had a top sustained wind speed of 45 mph, down from 75 mph Sunday. It was centered 20 miles west of Guantanamo, Cuba, and about 515 miles southeast of Key West. It was moving northwest at 12 mph.

``It has a good chance to regain hurricane status,″ said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center.

Ernesto had been the first hurricane of the Atlantic storm season and was 1 mph above the minimum for a hurricane Sunday, but it weakened as it headed toward Cuba.

The storm battered Haiti and the Dominican Republic with heavy rain and wind on Sunday and killed at least one person.

Bush’s state of emergency directed counties to activate emergency management offices and activated the National Guard, among other things. The governor canceled a trip to New York on Monday.

Florida’s emergency management center in Tallahassee was partially activated Sunday, and several counties were expected to follow suit. People across the state were warned to monitor the storm and check their emergency supplies and disaster plans.

``Ernesto bears watching,″ said Mike Stone, spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

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On the Net:

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

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