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Tropical Storm Soaks Florida

Arlene is moving toward the Panhandle and could reach hurricane force before landfall.

June 11, 2005|From Associated Press

PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. — A strengthening Tropical Storm Arlene dumped rain on much of Florida as its center moved toward the northern Gulf Coast on Friday night, stirring memories of last year's devastating hurricane season.

Forecasters said Arlene, the Atlantic hurricane season's first named tropical storm, could become a weak hurricane before making landfall late today.

The storm was expected to then move north along the Mississippi-Alabama line, possibly reaching Tennessee by Sunday afternoon.

A hurricane warning was issued for portions of the Gulf Coast from Pascagoula, Miss., east to Destin, Fla. A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are possible within 24 hours.

A hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning were in effect from the mouth of the Pearl River east to Pascagoula and from Destin southeast to Indian Pass, Fla.

Arlene's top sustained winds reached 70 mph Friday night, up from 45 mph. The wind speed was likely to increase, but forecasters said the biggest impact would be from heavy rain. Arlene would become a hurricane if its sustained winds hit 74 mph.

In the Florida Panhandle, the Coast Guard said one of its helicopters rescued five crew members of a fishing trawler that was taking on water in 12-foot seas off Cape San Blas. A Russian exchange student died after being pulled from the waves off Miami Beach, officials said.

Residents in flood-prone areas were urged to move to higher ground. Several western Panhandle counties urged tens of thousands of people to leave. In the vulnerable marshes south of New Orleans, bulldozers were moved into place in case water from a storm surge broke through a levee.

In Pensacola Beach, where many residents are still living in government trailers because of damage from last year's Hurricane Ivan, residents eyed the forecast warily.

Margie Wassner, 57, said she planned to ride out Arlene with friends inland in Pensacola.

"It's pretty scary to me," she said. "I just kept hoping that we wouldn't have anything, but I don't know. It's awfully early in the year to be having this."

Jeff Jackson, a real estate agent in Gulf Shores, Ala., worried that Arlene's rain could undo some of the beach erosion repairs underway in his town since February.

"Coming so close to Ivan, it's got people a little edgy," he said.

The Florida Panhandle was battered last year by Ivan, one of the four hurricanes to strike the state within six weeks. Florida was also struck by Charley, Frances and Jeanne, and together the four storms caused 123 deaths in the state and more than $42 billion in property damage, much of which has not been repaired.

Hurricane season began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

Arlene passed Cuba's westernmost tip early Friday, bringing heavy rain, gusty winds and rough seas to the region.

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