August 25, 2005

Hurricane Katrina drenches Florida, floods feared

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - Katrina strengthened into a hurricane
from a tropical storm on Thursday and deluged Florida's densely
populated southeast coast with rain, heightening fears of

The core of the storm was expected to hit the Fort
Lauderdale area late on Thursday or early on Friday, dumping up
to 10 inches of rain on southern Florida as it moved slowly
across the state into the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. National
Hurricane Center said.

"The entire south part of the peninsula is at risk for
flooding," said Ed Rappaport, the center's deputy director.

Some areas could get up to 15 inches of rain, the hurricane
center said. Skies darkened and rain poured as the outer bands
of the storm moved ashore. Some streets were already flooding
and emergency managers urged people to stay inside.

At 4 p.m. (2000 GMT), Katrina was centered 25 miles
east-northeast of Fort Lauderdale.

Fueled by warm gulf stream currents, Katrina's top winds
strengthened to 75 mph (120), up from 40 mph (65 kph) a day
earlier and just over the 74-mph (118 kph) threshold to become
a hurricane, said hurricane center director Max Mayfield.

Such hurricanes can damage flimsy trailer homes and strip
leaves off trees but rarely cause structural damage. Emergency
managers urged people to leave vulnerable islands and mobile
home parks, but did not order mandatory evacuations.

Punished last season by four powerful hurricanes in six
weeks, Florida residents snapped up drinking water and spare
batteries from stores. Some filled sandbags to try and protect
their homes from flooding.


Drivers lined up to fill their cars with gasoline before
the storm hit and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush urged South Floridians
to conserve fuel to avoid spot shortages.

"We start with a situation of very low inventories because
gas companies are operating on very low margins in terms of
their supply. That's bad when you combine that with increases
in demand," he said. "You're going to have isolated or spotted
areas where there will be shortages."

He said Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale got a shipment
of 20 million gallons of gasoline, which can be distributed
after the storm passes.

Schools and businesses in southeast Florida closed and
cruise lines rerouted their ships as the seaports shut down.

Party planners on Miami Beach canceled poolside bashes that
had been organized for celebrities and fans in town for the MTV
Video Music Awards. But forecasters expected the skies to clear
in time for the awards show on Sunday.

A hurricane warning was issued for a 170-mile (270-km)
stretch of Florida's densely populated southern Atlantic Coast
from Florida City to Vero Beach, alerting residents to expect
hurricane winds within 24 hours. The area includes Miami, Fort
Lauderdale and Palm Beach -- all of which were largely spared
in last year's unusual series of storms.

Storm warnings and watches were also posted for part of the
Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee in central Florida, other parts
of Florida's coasts and some islands of the northwest Bahamas.

After crossing the southern tip of Florida, Katrina is
expected to head north through the Gulf of Mexico, strengthen
again into a hurricane and hit north Florida on Monday.

Its projected path would miss the oil and natural gas rigs
farther west in the Gulf of Mexico, but inflict more misery on
the region pummeled by Hurricane Dennis in July and Hurricane
Ivan last year.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said President George W.
Bush and federal authorities were ready to provide any needed

"The government's ready, we're watching and we're taking
steps to make sure that people get to safe areas or take the
proper precautions from the storm," Duffy told reporters in
Crawford, Texas.

Forecasters have predicted an unusually high number of
storms this year because the Atlantic has swung into a
multi-decade period of more intense storm activity.

The June-through-November Atlantic hurricane season has
already seen 11 named storms, a record so early in the year.