June 11, 2006

Tropical Storm Alberto edges toward Florida

By Michael Connor

MIAMI (Reuters) - The first tropical storm of the 2006
Atlantic hurricane season, Alberto, formed off Cuba on Sunday
and appeared headed toward Florida, the U.S. National Hurricane
Center said.

The storm, centered near latitude 25.3 north and longitude
87.7 west in the Gulf of Mexico, was about 385 miles southwest
of Cedar Key on the west coast of Florida at 11 p.m. EDT (0300
GMT on Monday), according to the center's Web site

Although it was a weak tropical storm, Alberto was an
unmistakable reminder that the hurricane season had begun to
U.S. coastal residents battered by eight hurricanes in the last
two years. Last year's Hurricane Katrina was the most costly
and one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

On Louisiana's coast, dark clouds and a fresh breeze were
signs that Alberto was brewing across the Gulf. After years
dodging storms, residents said the hot weather was a bad sign,
since hurricanes thrive on warm water.

"I think it's going to be a bad season this year. It's
scorching hot," said Philip Gilhang, 20, a shrimper from
Venice, a village on Louisiana's coast flattened by Katrina.


Alberto's maximum sustained winds were nearly 45 mph (75
kph), but the winds, which reached as far as 230 miles east of
its center, were expected to change little during the next day,
the forecasters in Miami said.

Forecasters described Alberto as "disorganized" and said
the storm, moving north-northeast near 8 mph (13 kph), would
turn slowly toward the northeast in the next 12 to 24 hours.

The storm looked likely to miss oil platforms along the
U.S. Gulf coast. "I don't think it's really that much of a
concern right now," said John Brady a broker at ABN Amro in New
York. "All it does is tell us we really are in a hurricane

Alberto dumped heavy rain on Cuba and was predicted to make
landfall in heavily populated Florida on Tuesday, cross the
northern part of the state, and then enter the Atlantic. Tide
levels were already above normal along the state's west coast.

The U.S. hurricane forecasters had issued a tropical storm
watch for Florida's west coast from north of Bonita Beach to
Steinhatchee, cautioning residents that tropical storm
conditions were possible during the next 36 hours.

"Rainfall totals of 5 to 10 inches are possible over the
Florida peninsula through Tuesday, with 3 to 5 inches

possible over the Florida Keys," the hurricane center said
in a late-afternoon bulletin.

Civil defense officials in Cuba reported Alberto had forced
26,000 people to evacuate low-lying areas in the Caribbean
island's western-most province of Pinar del Rio, where 16 to 20
inches of rain fell in 24 hours.

There was some minor flooding, but no deaths, injuries or
significant damage to housing or agriculture were reported.

Tropical storms do not present a significant threat to
developed nations, but can cause deadly floods in low-lying
areas and destroy ramshackle buildings.

(Additional reporting by Peter Henderson in Venice,
Louisiana, Marc Frank in Havana, Patricia Zengerle in
Washington and Jonathan Leff in Singapore)