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Hanna threatens heavy rain; Ike could do far more harm

The first storm is to drench the Eastern Seaboard. Then the hurricane could wallop Florida and the gulf.

September 06, 2008|From Times Wire Services

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Tropical Storm Hanna headed for the Carolinas on Friday, forecast to hit land overnight and promising to deliver gusty winds and heavy rain during a dash up the Eastern Seaboard that could wash out the weekend for millions of people.

Not far behind was a much bigger worry: a ferocious-looking Hurricane Ike, on a path similar to the one taken by Andrew, the Category 5 monster that devastated southern Florida in 1992. Ike, a Category 3 storm as of late Friday with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, could hit Florida by the middle of next week, the National Hurricane Center said in Miami.

Emergency officials urged evacuations in a few spots in the Carolinas; about 400 people went to shelters in both states. Forecasters said the chance was small that Hanna could become a hurricane. Most people planned to stay off the roads until the storm passed.

"My vacation lasts through Sunday," Jesse King of Asheboro, N.C., told the Associated Press on Friday evening. "They are going to have to tell me I have to leave if they want me to go before Sunday." He was sheltering under a Myrtle Beach pier from strengthening winds and bursts of blinding rain.

Earlier in the week, Hanna killed at least 529 people in Haiti.

Rain started falling early Friday on the Carolina coast, with streets in some spots flooding by late afternoon and wind gusting to 45 mph. On the beaches, people had to shout to be heard.

Hanna was expected to blow ashore early today between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, N.C., and race up the Atlantic Coast, reaching New England by Sunday morning. Tropical storm watches or warnings ran from Georgia to Long Island.

As much as 10 inches of rain was expected in some spots in the Carolinas, central Virginia, Maryland and southeastern Pennsylvania. Forecasters warned of the potential for flash flooding in the northern mid-Atlantic states and southern New England.

The National Weather Service said the storm would probably hit the Carolina coast during a falling tide, tempering the potential for coastal flooding, but tornadoes could follow. People were urged not to leave as the storm strengthened.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said people in low-lying areas, mobile homes, camping trailers or places susceptible to wind damage should consider leaving: "Now is the time to look at taking shelter."

Meanwhile, Florida and the Caribbean braced for Hurricane Ike, which was expected to sweep over the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southern Bahamas by Sunday.

Ike's track was considered highly unpredictable. The hurricane center's official forecast took it through the Florida Keys into the Gulf of Mexico, where around 4,000 offshore platforms produce 25% of U.S. crude oil and 15% of the country's natural gas.

Visitors were ordered to evacuate the Keys today; residents were to leave beginning Sunday.

Some computer models took Ike near Miami, where up to 1.3 million people could be ordered to flee the coast.

"It's a lot coming at us. But we must remain vigilant, focused and calm," said Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who declared a state of emergency.

Hurricane center meteorologist Michael Formosa said: "It has the potential to be a major hurricane on landfall. It's serious. It's dangerous."

Broward and Palm Beach counties delayed decisions on evacuations, shelters and school closings until the storm's path became clearer, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.

Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties are considering a voluntary evacuation beginning Sunday.

"Our biggest concern is people are looking for an excuse not to do what they need to do," Broward County Emergency Management Director Chuck Lanza said.

"People need to stay vigilant and aware because this could still be a major storm for this county."

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