June 13, 2006

Tropical Storm Alberto sloshes into Florida

By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Alberto's
chances of becoming the first hurricane of 2006 receded on
Tuesday as it crept toward Florida, dumping heavy rain on the
deserted coastline and shuttered homes.

The storm's center was still over the Gulf of Mexico at 5
a.m. EDT (0900 GMT), but heavy winds and rains lashed northwest
Florida, where officials had ordered thousands of residents to
evacuate barrier islands, flood plains and trailer parks.

At 5 a.m., Alberto's center was about 60 miles southeast of
Apalachicola, in Florida's panhandle, and moving northeast near
9 miles per hour (15 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center

Its maximum sustained winds had slowed to near 65 mph (100
kph), below the 74 mph (119 kph) threshold at which tropical
storms become hurricanes.

"Although some potential still exists for restrengthening
the likelihood that Alberto will become a hurricane prior to
landfall is decreasing," the hurricane center said.

The center's director, Max Mayfield, cautioned that Alberto
was still capable of causing significant damage, however.

"We don't want to overdo this but we sure don't want to
underdo it either," Mayfield told CNN.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency even
though the most likely area of landfall was sparsely populated
swampland and farming country, with no big cities like New
Orleans, devastated in August by Hurricane Katrina.

Florida officials said 26 shelters in 16 counties had been
opened for evacuees.

"This is a serious storm and we are taking it seriously,"
Bush said.


Around 21,000 people were affected by evacuation orders.
The emergency director in one rural area, Citrus County, went
door to door on Monday to urge people to seek higher ground.

Energy traders said Alberto's path should take it too far
east to cause disruptions or damage to offshore oil and gas
platforms battered during last year's record-breaking Atlantic
hurricane season. There were 28 tropical storms in the
June-November 2005 season, of which 15 became hurricanes.

Experts have forecast another busier-than-average storm
year. Alberto's formation less than two weeks after the June 1
start of the season seemed to underscore the predictions.

The hurricane center said 4-8 inches of rain were possible
through Tuesday across parts of Florida and Georgia. Storm
surge flooding up to 9 feet above normal tide levels was
expected across parts of the Gulf Coast.

While tropical storms pose little threat to developed
countries, anxieties in U.S. coastal areas have been heightened
following Katrina -- the most costly and one of the deadliest
U.S. natural disasters.

Katrina killed more than 1,300 people, caused $80 billion
in damage, helped sink President George W. Bush's popularity
because of a fumbled emergency response, left tens of thousands
homeless and helped push oil prices to record highs.

Alberto formed on Sunday off Cuba where there was some
minor flooding but no deaths.