Storm closes in on Florida

BY PJ HELLER | MIAMI | October 15, 1999


MIAMI (Oct. 15, 1999) -- High winds and heavy rains lashed South Florida today as Hurricane Irene inched closer to making landfall on the southwest Florida coast.

No major damage or injuries were reported from the storm, which was packing

75 mph winds. Wind gusts of up to 103 mph were reported at Big Pine Key,

where some flooding and downed trees were reported.

Residents of Big Pine Key were still cleaning up from Hurricane Georges -- which struck a year ago -- when Irene passed by.

"It was a nuisance," said Vincent Scavo, a volunteer at St. Peter Catholic

Church, which is also home to the Paradise Interfaith Network. "A big

nuisance."

A tornado spawned by the hurricane was reported to have touched down at

Boca Chica Key. There were no reports of damages or injuries.

A tornado watch was in effect for South Florida.

Street flooding, downed trees and power outages were reported throughout

state. Scattered power outages were reported in the Keys, from Islamorada

to Boca Chica. Up to 10 inches of rain fell in Key West as Irene's center

passed by earlier today. Highway U.S. 1 on lower Matecumbe Key, was

flooded.

At least eight counties were responding to the threat of the storm by

opening shelters, ordering voluntary or mandatory evacuations and closing

schools and government offices.

Gov. Jeb Bush asked President Clinton to declare a federal emergency for

Florida in preparation for the impact from the hurricane. The emergency

declaration requests federal aid for emergency protective actions and

debris removal.

"Large amounts of rainfall will cause severe flooding in parts of Florida,"

Bush said. "We've reached a point in our response to this hurricane, that

federal assistance is now required in order to help our citizens in need."

Bush had declared a state of emergency on Thursday.

The storm is expected to come ashore Saturday morning between Tampa and Fort Myers.

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning from Florida City

near the Florida Peninsula to the Anclote Keys, which included all of the

Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas.

A tropical storm warning and hurricane watch were in effect from Florida

City to south of Flagler Beach on the state's east coast and for Lake

Okeechobee. On the west coast, a hurricane watch was issued from north of

the Anclote Keys to Yankeetown north of Clearwater.

A tropical storm watch was also in effect for Bimini, Grand Bahama and the

Abaco Islands.

Overall, the storm warning covered 280 miles of the Atlantic Coast and 180

miles along the Gulf Coast.

Posted Oct. 15, 1999


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