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Tropical Storm Gordon Slams Across Florida : Weather: Disaster is averted, but high winds evoke bad memories of 1992's Hurricane Andrew. At least 100 deaths in Caribbean are reported.

November 15, 1994|MIKE CLARY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MIAMI — Blustery winds and driving rain lashed much of Florida Monday as Tropical Storm Gordon canceled school for 9,200 children in the Keys, diverted the space shuttle to California and recalled for many the horror of Hurricane Andrew two years ago.

Before bearing down on Florida, the late-season storm was blamed for at least 100 deaths in the Caribbean, where heavy rains caused flooding and mudslides in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

With sustained winds of about 50 m.p.h., Gordon did not threaten Florida with widespread disaster. But howling gusts of up to 65 m.p.h. knocked out power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses, rocked vehicles stalled on flooded streets and pushed tides onto roadways.

"We remember what happened two years ago, so weather is always a concern," said Principal Estela Santiago of Homestead's Redondo Elementary School, which was largely destroyed by Andrew in August, 1992. "So far the students are doing fine, but the parents keep calling."

As the diffuse center of Gordon headed west through the Florida Straits and across the heart of the Florida Keys late Monday, forecasters hoisted tropical storm warnings for most of South Florida, from Palm Beach to Ft. Myers.

Driving rain pounded the area as bands of thunderstorms north of the storm's eye swirled over land. Near Largo, U.S. 1, which links the Peninsula to the Keys, was closed while state highway workers hauled in rocks to shore up the eroding highway.

Traffic was light. "People are staying home, out of the wind," said Florida Highway Patrol dispatcher Jan Paul.

Early Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy combined to pulled nine crewmen and a dog from a 180-foot Haitian freighter foundering in 20-foot seas east of Key Largo. The sailors were airlifted from the Juno Express by two helicopters and ferried ashore, according to a Coast Guard spokesman.

The storm forced the shuttle Atlantis from its scheduled Kennedy Space Center landing to an alternate site at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert.

Robert C. Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, said Monday's high winds and heavy rainfall were likely the worst Gordon had to offer South Florida. But once into the Gulf of Mexico, he said, Gordon could stall and strengthen. By Wednesday or Thursday, Sheets said, a rejuvenated storm could threaten Florida again or make landfall elsewhere on the Gulf Coast.

Falling tree branches knocked down power lines as the storm moved through. Strong surf eroded beaches from Palm Beach to Miami. High winds caused flight delays and some cancellations at Miami International Airport.

In Miami Beach and the Keys, tourists hunkered down at bars or in their rooms after fishing and diving trips were called off.

"We have a lot of people here for scuba diving who are just practicing in the pool," said Faye M. Bailey, assistant general manager of the Marina del Mar in Key Largo.

Gordon was born Thursday from a tropical depression that formed off the east coast of Nicaragua. The storm moved north over Jamaica and eastern Cuba, spreading high winds and rain throughout the region. Dozens of deaths were reported in Haiti, while flooding was linked to the drowning of two Jamaicans.

At the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, blustery winds Sunday flattened several of the tents in which some 23,000 Cuban and 6,000 Haitian refugees are being housed, but a base spokesman said no injuries or deaths were reported. Wind gusts of 120 m.p.h. were reported in Cuba.

Gordon is the seventh tropical storm of the six-month hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.

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