Stronger Earl heads for FL

BY PJ HELLER | FLORIDA | September 2, 1998


Hurricane Earl, after a disorganized stay in the Gulf of Mexico for several

days, suddenly strengthened rapidly and headed for the Florida Panhandle

Wedneday night with 100-mph winds and drenching rain.

Thousands of Florida Panhandle and Tallahassee-area residents quickly

evacuated coastal and low-lying areas. The National Hurricane Center said a

storm surge of 8 to 11 feet, accompanied by damaging, wind-driven waves

could hit the coast.

Forecasters said late Wednesday they expected the center of the storm to

make landfall during the early morning hours near Panama City Thursday,

before cutting across Georgia and into South Carolina. Between 5 and

10-inches of rain is expected to accompany the storm as it moves across the

South.

If Earl follows predictions, it will be the first time the Panhandle has

seen a direct hurricane hit since 1995. That year, two hurricanes, Erin and

Opal, struck, claiming 38 lives.

"Stay calm. Stay cool. Stay home."

That's the advice that Pastor Roland Schutz says he and others are

preaching to residents in Panama City. Schutz, senior pastor at Trinity

Lutheran Church in Panama City, reported schools and businesses were closed

in preparation for the storm.

State and county officials were taking no chances with the unpredictable

storm. A local state of emergency was declared in at least 16 Panhandle and

coastal counties in preparation for the storm. Evacuations were recommended

or suggested in some counties, with mandatory evacuations ordered for some

low-lying areas and barrier islands. Shelters were either opened or on

standby in the event they were needed.

Hurricane warnings Wednesday night stretched from Pascagoula, Miss., to

Suwannee River in Florida. Tropical storm warnings were in effect from

south of Suwannee River to Anclote Key, Fla. A flash flood watch was issued

for the entire area. Tornado watches were issued for 38 Florida counties in

the northwest, north and central areas adjacent to coastal waters.

Rain which was falling on the area Wednesday afternoon was a welcome sight

after weeks of hot stifling temperatures, Schutz noted.

He said faith-based organizations were pretty much taking a "wait and see"

attitude about responding to the storm.

"Right now there's not any major effort to gear up," he said. "Most people

are just playing it cool."

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.

Before changing course and gaining intensity - from 60 mph to 100 mph -

Earl appeared to be heading toward Texas and then Louisiana's low-lying

coast and barrier islands, where voluntary evacuations had begun Tuesday.

Mississippi officials were also keeping a wary on the storm, fearing it

might turn back and slam into the state as Hurricane Elena did exactly 13

years ago to the day.

Earl became the third hurricane of the this season on Wednesday morning

when its winds surpassed 74 mph. Hurricane Bonnie hit the North Carolina

coast last week causing more than $1 billion in damages; Hurricane Danielle

brushed Bermuda on Wednesday and was churning through the Atlantic

northeast of the island.

"We've been through this before," Schutz added, referring to Hurricanes

Erin and Opal.

Posted September 2, 1998


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