June 12, 2006

Florida under hurricane warning as Alberto nears

By Robert Green

ST PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) - Forecasters issued a
hurricane warning for much of Florida's Gulf Coast on Monday as
Alberto, the first tropical storm of the 2006 Atlantic
hurricane season, strengthened ominously and threatened to dump
heavy rains on the state.

The storm, centered near latitude 27.1 north and longitude
89.5 west in the Gulf of Mexico, was about 190 miles
south-southwest of Apalachicola, in Florida's northwestern
panhandle, at 11 a.m. EDT, according to the U.S. National
Hurricane Center (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov).

"Alberto has the potential to become a hurricane within the
next 24 hours," the U.S. forecasters in Miami said, adding to a
sense of foreboding in a state hit by eight hurricanes in the
last two years, including Katrina, which went on to devastate
New Orleans.

Energy experts said Alberto was expected to miss Gulf oil

Alberto's maximum sustained winds had increased to near 70
miles per hour (110 km per hour), and further strengthening was
possible, the center said. Tropical storms become hurricanes
once their maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph (119 kph).

Alberto dropped heavy rain on Cuba and was predicted to
make landfall north of Florida's heavily populated Tampa-St.
Petersburg area on Tuesday, cross the state, and then enter the

Tides were rising and rain was starting to fall on
Florida's west coast.

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


Much of the U.S. East Coast had been girding for the June 1
start of the hurricane season, and while tropical storms pose
little threat to developed countries, anxieties have been
heightened following the flooding of New Orleans last year by
Hurricane Katrina -- the most costly and one of the deadliest
natural disasters in U.S. history.

More than 1,300 people were killed by Katrina and much of
the U.S. Gulf Coast is still recovering.

The hurricane center said the storm, moving north-northeast
near 7 mph (11 kph), was expected to hold to the same general
path over the next 24 hours.

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 can cause deadly floods in low-lying areas
and destroy ramshackle buildings in developing nations.