September 19, 2005

Tropical storm Rita headed for Florida Keys

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Rita, the 17th
tropical storm of the busy Atlantic hurricane season, was south
of the Bahamas on Monday morning and headed toward an area
south of the Florida Keys, which tourists were ordered to

Forecasters issued storm warnings for The Bahamas,
southeastern Florida, the Keys, Cuba and the Turks and Caicos,
and said warnings would likely be extended northward along both
coasts of Florida.

The storm could become a hurricane by Tuesday, when it was
expected to be between the Keys and Cuba, said the U.S.
National Hurricane Center in Miami on its Web site.

At 8 a.m. EDT, Rita's center was about 235 miles

southeast of Nassau, the Bahamian capital, and moving west
at nine miles per hour (15 kph). It was packing winds near 60
mph (95 kph), the center said.

It was moving on a path that could take it into the Gulf of
Mexico by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Authorities in the Florida Keys, a 110-mile chain of
islands off the southern tip of the Florida peninsula, began a
phased evacuation on Sunday, telling visitors to leave the
lower Keys. Schools were ordered closed on Monday and Tuesday.

A hurricane warning was in effect for the Florida Keys and
the Exumas and Andros Island in the Bahamas, while a hurricane
watch, alerting residents to possible hurricane conditions
within 36 hours, was in effect for the Keys and parts of Cuba.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for the Turks and
Caicos islands, a British territory near the Bahamas, and for
the central and southeast Bahamas.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to
November 30, produces an average of about 11 tropical storms or
hurricanes. But forecasters had predicted an above-average
season with as many as 21 storms due to high sea-surface
temperatures and other conditions favorable to hurricane

Hurricane Katrina has been blamed for at least 883 deaths
in six states.

Hurricane Philippe, meanwhile, upgraded from a tropical
storm overnight, was about 385 miles east of the Leeward
Islands of the Caribbean at 5:00 a.m. (0900 GMT).

With winds around 75 mph (120 kph), it was moving on a
north-northeastward track that would take it through the open
Atlantic and was no immediate threat to land.