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Mitch pounds FL in final punch

BY PJ HELLER | KEY LARGO, Fla. | November 6, 1998

KEY LARGO, Fla. (Nov. 6, 1998) - Tropical Storm Mitch, which came back

to life after beating much of Central America to a pulp, finally went down

for the count Thursday night after landing one last punch on South Florida.

The storm, a mere shadow of its former self when it was a Category 5

hurricane packing 180 mph winds, still managed to hit the area with high

winds and heavy rains, causing extensive damage in some areas.

It was blamed for two deaths. One man drowned after his boat capsized in

rough seas near the Dry Tortugas and another man was killed in a car

accident in Fort Lauderdale that was blamed on the storm. Seven people

suffered minor injuries.

One of the hardest hit area was Key Largo in the Florida Keys, where

high winds flipped several mobile homes in RV parks and destroyed or

damaged dozens of boats at a marina and temporarily knocked out power. The

winds, in some areas clocked at 70 mph, also toppled a tractor-trailer

truck on U.S. 1, the only road in and out of the Keys.

Tornadoes spawned by the storm tore part of the roof off a motel in

Islamorada.

"The areas that were hit were damaged fairly extensively," reported

Kathy Leicester, a coordinator with the Monroe County Emergency Management

Office.

The Florida Department of Emergency Management reported that at least

357 structures were damaged in the Keys. One-third of them suffered major

damage or were destroyed, officials said.

Mitch hit as residents in several of the Keys are trying to recover from

the pounding they took in September from Hurricane Georges, which damaged

or destroyed more than 4,000 homes in the 130-mile island chain.

Many Keys residents were living in their damaged homes when Mitch tore

through the area.

"A lot of those people spent a fairly miserable wet night," Leicester said.

Some 150 people spent the night in a shelter at a Key Largo elementary

school. Several other shelters were opened up and down the Keys.

Schools were closed in the Keys but were scheduled to reopen Friday.

The storm downed trees and power lines throughout the region, leaving

more than 40,000 residents without electricity. Power was expected to be

restored to all areas by midnight.

Up to 8 inches of rain was reported in some areas in South Florida,

causing roads and homes to flood.

By mid-day, the storm, which had reformed after pummeling Honduras and

Nicaragua where it left more than 11,000 people dead from floods and

mudslides, had moved off Florida's east coast and was breaking up over the

Atlantic.

"It's getting to be close to the end of hurricane season," Leicester

said. "I think everybody's going to be happy about that."

Posted Nov. 6, 1998


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