Hurricane Erin hit land with winds gusts up to 100 mph and driving rain early today, stirring up bad memories of catastrophic Hurricane Andrew just three years ago.
The ocean smacked up against seawalls and palm fronds littered roads left dark from downed power lines and deserted by wary residents.
About 70 miles of coastline north of Palm Beach was battered by sustained winds of 85 mph and sheets of rain. Hundreds of thousands of people were ordered to flee inland.
The eye wall of Hurricane Erin made land at 1:11 a.m. just south of Vero Beach, the National Hurricane Center said. It had already been blamed for five deaths in Jamaica.
At 1 a.m. EDT, the center of Erin was about 15 miles southeast of Vero Beach - spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers - moving toward the west-northwest at 15 mph.
“As the center crosses they can expect three to four hours of the maximum effects of the winds,” said Jerry Jarrell, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Erin had moved farther north than was earlier expected, and late Tuesday authorities lifted an evacuation warning for 400,000 people in Dade County, which includes Miami and Homestead, the city to the south that was pulverized by Andrew in 1992.
Some got caught in the switch.
“When we left, they said it was going to hit Miami,” said Paul Lazeau, one of three charter boat captains who thought they were beating Hurricane Erin by heading north from Palm Beach County. “We got here and they said it looks like it’s going to be Fort Pierce.”
Evacuation warnings remained in effect for 400,000 people along the central coast.
Erin’s arrival in Central Florida took many by surprise, and many left without preparing their homes for the storm, Police Chief Jim Gabbard said.
“Maybe a third of the places were boarded up,” he said.
Blown transformers and power outages were reported in the central coastal counties early Wednesday. There were no estimates of how many customers were out of service because workers had been sent to safe areas to wait out the storm, said Ed Duchene, an emergency supervisor for Florida Power & Light in Miami.
The Rev. Edward Taylor, an 82-year-old Pentecostal minister, had shuttered the windows on his home before heading inland to his nephew’s house.
But he said he wasn’t worried: “We’re ready to meet the Creator.”
As the storm approached Vero Beach’s barrier island, the wind blew in an incessant whoosh and large white-capped waves pounded the beach. As it strenghtened it knocked down newspaper boxes.
Earlier in the day, as Erin moved through the Caribbean, its heavy rains were blamed for a plane crash in Jamaica that killed five people. Erin ripped boats from their moorings and caused extensive damage to fields of bananas, avocados, mangoes and watermelons in the Bahamas.