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Thousands wary of Ernesto

Hurricane Ernesto may strengthen into a major hurricane next week and cross Florida, forecasters said Sunday.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | August 27, 2006

Ernesto stengthened overnight into a hurricane and forecasters said Sunday morning that its path may take it across Florida later this week.

Although the Sunday morning predictions were calling for the hurricane to cross the Florida peninsula from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic by the end of the week, faith-based groups and local clergy were reporting that residents along the Gulf Coast were anxiously watching this storm. This week is the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, an already difficult time emotionally for many people.

In a weekend news briefing, National Huricane Center director Max Mayfield reiterated it was too early to pinpoint a specific landfall for the storm.

"I think the message is, especially to the folks that are in temporary housing, these 115,000 families, mostly in the FEMA trailers, they need to watch this carefully. We've got some time. We don't want people to get too excited about this, but they certainly need to be watching it."

By Sunday morning, Ernesto was about 115 miles southwest of Port au Prince, Haiti, according to the National Hurricane Center. Rain totals of 6 to 12-inches may cause flash floods and mudslides in Haiti and the Dominican Republic forecasters warned.

At 8 AM Sunday, the storm's sustained winds were 75 mph and additional strengthening is predicted over the next 24 hours. A tropical storm watch may be issued for the Florida Keys later today.

Ernesto is the first hurricane of the 2006 Atlantic season.

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