Ernesto hits FL;Carolinas get ready

Tropical Storm Ernesto made landfall late Tuesday evening in southern Florida, puzzling forecasters by failing to strengthen before a U.S. landfall.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | August 30, 2006


Tropical Storm Ernesto made landfall late Tuesday evening in southern Florida, puzzling forecasters by failing to strengthen before a U.S. landfall.

The storm brought 45-mph winds and drenching rain, and by Wednesday morning preliminary reports showed so far severe flooding had not occurred. But Ernesto was still crossing Florida and assessments were difficult to make. Landfall occurred first on Plantation Key, about 60 miles southwest of Miami, then along the southern peninsula near the Miami-Dade and mainland Monroe County line.

After tracking over south and central Florida for much of Wednesday, the storm was expected to exit Florida on the east coast of the state between Cape Canaveral and Daytona Beach. Forecasters said parts of Florida could receive up to 10 inches of rain.

Flooding remained the biggest concern by Wednesday morning. Thousands of sandbags were distributed in the low-lying Miami suburb of Sweetwater. More than 1,000 people were in shelters in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Car accidents killed two people in the state during the storm.

Yet even while some Floridians breathed a sigh of relief, the Carolinas were bracing for a hit from a storm that still could re-strengthen into a hurricane. Landfall there was expected somewhere near the North Carolina-South Carolina border. A hurricane watch was issued for portions of the coast in that region.

"Slow decay is expected over Florida," reported the National Hurricane Center, "and how much strengthening occurs after Ernesto emerges into the Atlantic depends on how much of a cyclone is left."

Ernesto could still regain hurricane strength after it crosses Florida and reaches the warm water off the state's northeast coast.

At least some people in the Carolinas would welcome a steady rain, since the region has been so dry.

But as Ernesto travels inland and possibly slows down, other states - such as Pennsylvania and New York - that have been hit by severe flooding earlier this summer would not welcome heavy rain. Many communities in the mid-Atlantic are just beginning to rebuild after a record-breaking rainfall.

Earlier this week, Ernesto became the first hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic season. It then weakened as it crossed the mountains of eastern Cuba. Ernesto killed at least two people in Haiti.


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