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Earl brings winds, rain to SE

BY PJ HELLER | WESTERN FLORIDA | September 3, 1998

WESTERN FLORIDA (September 3, 1998) -- Hurricane Earl paid an early morning visit Thursday to Florida's Panhandle,

bringing with it 80 mph winds, torrential rains, tornadoes and heavy seas.

But by evening, the hurricane had become a tropical storm and was slowly

moving across the South spreading heavy rain and gusty winds.

Although in most places, the storm just flooded streets and knocked down

utility poles, at least one person died and three were still missing

Thursday night.

After a disorganized stay in the Gulf of Mexico for several days, Earl made

landfall around 2 a.m. EDT at Panama City. Forecasters predicted the storm

would dump 5 to 10 inches of rain along its path and warned of a possible

life-threatening storm surge 7 to 10 feet above normal tide levels,

particularly in the Big Bend area of Florida.

The storm was expected to continue weaken over land as it made its way

through the Carolinas.

Flooding is a concern for emergency management officials. The track of the

storm may take it over areas already hard-hit by Spring floods. While one

suburb in Albany, Ga. -- hit hard by Spring flooding -- was evacuated, Kaye

Voth of United Methodist Flood Relief said no homes were damaged by the

water.

A tornado, related to the storm in St. Helena Island, SC, killed one person

and another was still missing. Two fishermen, thrown from their boats in

the Gulf on Wednesday night are also missing.

Earl, which had been upgraded to a Category 2 storm with winds of 100 mph

winds as it approached Panama City, lost some of its power, coming ashore

as a Category 1 storm with winds of 80 mph.

Thousands of Florida Panhandle and Tallahassee-area residents had evacuated

coastal and low-lying areas under mandatory or recommended evacuation

orders. Schools, businesses and government offices closed early Wednesday

as residents braced for the unpredictable storm. Emergency shelters were

opened or placed on standby in case they were needed.

Gov. Lawton Chiles declared a state of emergency prior to the storm hitting

land.

Earl was the first direct hurricane hit the Panhandle has seen since 1995,

when hurricanes Erin and Opal both struck, claiming 38 lives.

Charles Moeller a regional facilitator for Church World Service (CWS), was

monitoring the situation from North Carolina and was in contact with CWS

disaster resource consultants in Florida.

The Salvation Army in Florida has announced a telephone number

(813-962-6611) for information about material donations in the wake of the

storm.

Earl is the third hurricane of the this season. Hurricane Bonnie hit the

North Carolina coast last week causing more than $1 billion in damages;

Hurricane Danielle brushed Bermuda on Wednesday and was heading into the

central Atlantic with winds of 75 mph.

Meanwhile, forecasters are keeping close tabs on three new tropical waves

in the Carribean. The first wave passed through Puerto Rico Wednesday,

prompting a flash flood watch to be issued.

The first 10 days of September, is traditionally the most

active time in Atlantic tropical storm formation.

Updated September 3, 1998


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