Floyd Strengthens, Nears Bahamas
NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) _ Storm-weary residents in the Bahamas braced for a brush with Hurricane Floyd as it swelled and powered up to a major storm, packing winds of up to 145 mph on Sunday.
By mid-afternoon, all of the Bahamas _ a 600-mile-long line of islands _ was under hurricane warnings or watches. Forecasters said they might also issue a hurricane watch for part of eastern Florida Sunday night or Monday.
If it stays on its current path, Floyd would hit the coast of Florida between West Palm Beach and Cocoa Beach. Forecasters expected the hurricane to begin turning north before landfall, though perhaps not much before.
Experts said that by Tuesday the storm could approach the Abacos Islands and Eleuthera, which were blasted last month by Hurricane Dennis.
``I just got back on my feet from last month’s scare,″ sighed Marie Johnson of Nassau as she pulled out a few bills to pay for flashlight and radio batteries at the City Market grocery store. Customers streamed into the store to pick up hurricane supplies.
A U.S. hurricane hunter airplane reported Sunday evening that Floyd’s winds had topped the 131 mph mark of a very dangerous Category 4 storm.
The U.S. National Weather Service recommended people along the southeast coast monitor the storm’s course.
In Florida, emergency management officials began mobilizing, with the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee calling in essential personnel for ’round-the-clock staffing. In Fort Pierce, officials began to analyze needs for residents who are disabled or need medical supervision.
Many Floridians took advantage of the weekend’s final day to take careful inventory of their hurricane supplies. Osvaldo Ibarra, hardware manager at a Home Depot in Miami, said sales were brisk for batteries, nails, rope and hurricane shutter fasteners.
``People are really buying the extra screws, the rope, and we’ve seen a lot more generator sales,″ Ibarra said.
In Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, south of the storm’s center, meteorologists warned that the terrain was already saturated, and that there could be heavy flooding.
Officials posted warnings for Hurricane Floyd across the central Bahamas and hurricane watches throughout the northwest Bahamas. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the southeast Bahamas and Britain’s Turks and Caicos Islands.
The storm swelled in size during the weekend. Hurricane-force winds had broadened to 115 miles from Floyd’s center by Sunday. Tropical storm force winds extended another 175 miles, and forecasters said the storm would likely strengthen overnight Sunday.
At 8 p.m. EDT, Floyd was about 370 miles east of San Salvador in the central Bahamas, and was headed almost due west at 14 mph.
Floyd’s center is likely to pass close to the capital, Nassau, on Tuesday morning, said Arthur Rolle, deputy director of the Bahamas Meteorological Department.
On Sunday, tourists in Nassau watched weather reports nervously. Honeymooners Michael and Julie Smith of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, lamented their bad luck.
``I hope this doesn’t mean our marriage is going to be like this _ messed up,″ Michael said.
Residents Jean and Jerry Isaacs said they had canceled plans to spend a few days in Florida.
``We could get over okay today, but by the way things are going, it’ll be tough getting back,″ Jean Isaacs said.
Elsewhere, Floyd was joined Sunday by Tropical Storm Gert, which formed midway between Africa and Barbados. Forecasters said it was gathering strength quickly and could become a hurricane Sunday night or Monday.