Earl floods FL Panhandle

BY PJ HELLER | FLORIDA PANHANDLE | 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 other than flooded streets, power outages and minor damage to homes and

businesses, the storm initially appeared to have been relatively mild, as

far as hurricanes go. No deaths or injuries were reported, although one

traffic fatality was blamed on heavy rain accompanying the leading edge of

the hurricane.

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 weaken over land as it made its way across the

state and toward Georgia and South Carolina. By 5 a.m. EDT, it was about 40

miles north-northeast of Panama City and moving to the northeast at 10 to

15 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

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

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

Hurricane warnings remained in effect from east of Panama City to Suwannee

River, Fla. Tropical storm warnings were issued from south of the Suwannee

River to Anclote Keys. Both of those warnings were expected to be lifted

sometime Thursday morning. Tornado were possible over portions of central

and northern Florida and southern Georgia, the National Weather Service

said.

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

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

as a Category One 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.

As Panama City braced for the storm on Wednesday, Pastor Roland Schutz of

Trinity Lutheran Church said he and others had been preaching to residents

to "Stay calm, stay cool and stay home."

State and county had declared a local state of emergency in at least 16

Panhandle and coastal counties in preparation for the storm.

Schutz said Wednesday that 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.

The Salvation Army in Florida has announced a telephone number

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

storm.

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.

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 a new tropical wave in the

Carribean. The first 10 days of September, has traditionally been the most

active time in Atlantic tropical storm formation.

Updated September 3, 1998


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