Katrina Strengthens, Heads to Florida
MIAMI (AP) _ Tropical Storm Katrina strengthened Thursday as it trudged toward Florida’s heavily populated southeastern coast, and forecasters expected it to become a weak hurricane before making landfall overnight.
As the wind picked up, the storm’s forward pace slowed, and it could drop a foot of rain in spots as it creeps across the peninsula. Battering waves and storm surge flooding of 2 to 4 feet were also likely, the National Hurricane Center said.
Hurricane-weary residents topped off their gas tanks and bought bottled water but many were skipping the storm shutters this time around. Wind is less of a concern for secured structures in Category 1 hurricanes, which have top sustained winds of 74 to 95 mph.
Mike Knapik, a general contractor from Fort Lauderdale, was among those who decided to go ahead and cover the windows at one of his businesses Thursday.
He planned to do the same at home but said, ``I think it’s a light storm. A lot of people aren’t taking it too seriously.″
Though lines were normal at area hardware stores and supermarkets, gas station attendants along Interstate 95 between Miami and Fort Lauderdale said they were seeing more customers than usual.
``People go out and fill their tanks to the brim, but they don’t leave. They buckle down,″ gas station attendant Chris Bonhorst said.
Carlos Sarcos, 48, of North Miami, said he would evacuate his family only if Katrina grew into a Category 3 storm, with winds of at least 111 mph.
``I don’t think it’s going to be dangerous,″ he said.
At 1 p.m. EDT, Katrina was centered about 40 miles east-northeast of Fort Lauderdale. Some of the first outer bands were passing over Miami-Dade and Broward counties, bringing winds of 10 to 15 mph and light rain.
Katrina’s top winds had reached 65 mph, up from 50 mph earlier in the day, and its forward pace slowed from 8 mph to 6 mph as it crossed the warm, storm-feeding waters of the Gulf Stream.
Its westward path was centered on the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, but forecasters warned it could easily move a bit to the north or south before striking the coast. If the forecast holds, Katrina would be the second hurricane to hit the state this year _ Dennis hit the Panhandle last month _ and the sixth since Aug. 13, 2004.
A hurricane warning was issued from Vero Beach to Florida City, as well as inland Lake Okeechobee. A tropical storm watch was issued for the central Atlantic coast, west coast and parts of the Florida Keys.
Six to 10 inches of rain was expected as the slow-moving storm crosses the state, and some spots could get 15 inches. Tornadoes were also possible. After the storm moves into the Gulf of Mexico, it could turn to the north and eventually strike the state’s Panhandle early next week, forecasters said.
Crude oil prices briefly touched a record $68 a barrel amid worries about the storm’s possible effect on Gulf of Mexico production, but later backed off.
Schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties closed for the day, and Broward County recommended evacuation of barrier islands and low-lying regions.
Gov. Jeb Bush canceled a business trip to Peru and returned to Florida from Virginia, where he was attending a hearing on military base realignment.
Katrina formed Wednesday over the Bahamas, bringing heavy showers and battering waves but causing no reported damage or flooding.
``For the most part it’s just been pretty much a wet storm, but not much wind,″ said Basil Dean, the Bahamas’ chief meteorological officer.
The Florida Panhandle was hit by Tropical Storm Cindy and Hurricane Dennis earlier this year. Early indications were that Dennis caused about $2 billion in total damage.
Last year, four hurricanes struck Florida and caused an estimated $46 billion in damage across the country.
In an average year, only a few tropical storms have developed by this time in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The hurricane season began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
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