June 12, 2006

Tropical Storm Alberto brings rain toward Florida

By Michael Connor

MIAMI (Reuters) - Forecasters issued a storm warning for
much of Florida's west coast on Monday as the first tropical
storm of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season, Alberto,
strengthened and brought heavy rains toward the state.

The storm, centered near latitude 26.2 north and longitude
87.2 west in the Gulf of Mexico, was about 275 miles
south-southwest of Apalachicola, in Florida's northwestern
panhandle, at 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT), according to the U.S.
National Hurricane Center (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov).

Alberto dumped heavy rain on Cuba and was predicted to make
landfall in heavily populated Florida on Tuesday, cross the
state, and then enter the Atlantic.

Tides were already above normal and rain was starting to
fall on Florida's west coast.

Forecasters said 4-8 inches were possible through Tuesday
across parts of Florida and Georgia.

Although it was not expected to become a hurricane, Alberto
was an unmistakable reminder that a new hurricane season had
begun. Much of the U.S. Gulf Coast is still recovering from
last year's Hurricane Katrina, the costliest and one of the
deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

Alberto's maximum sustained winds had increased to near 50
mph (85 kph), and further strengthening was expected during the
next day, the forecasters in Miami said. Tropical storm-force
winds, or at least 39 mph (63 kph), extended 230 miles to the
northeast and southeast.

Forecasters said the storm, moving north-northeast near 8
mph (13 kph), would turn northeast in the next 24 hours. They
posted a tropical storm warning, meaning tropical storm
conditions are expected within 24 hours, for the Florida coast
from Indian Pass, near Apalachicola, to Englewood, south of

Alberto was expected to miss Gulf oil platforms. "I don't
think it's really that much of a concern right now," said John
Brady, an energy broker at ABN Amro in New York. "All it does
is tell us we really are in a hurricane season."

Alberto formed on Sunday off Cuba, and civil defense
officials there reported the storm had forced 26,000 people to
evacuate low-lying areas in the Caribbean island's westernmost
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 Marc Frank in Havana, Patricia
Zengerle in Washington and Jonathan Leff in Singapore)