Florida residents brace for Ernesto’s arrival

TUESDAY, AUG. 29, 2006

MIAMI – Florida residents rushed to fill their prescriptions and stood in long lines for gasoline, food and other supplies Monday as officials warned people not to wait for Tropical Storm Ernesto to become a hurricane again before taking precautions.

Forecasters said Ernesto could grow back into a hurricane in the warm waters off Cuba and come ashore in South Florida as early as tonight.

It would be the first hurricane to hit the United States this year.

Memories of Katrina and the seven hurricanes that have struck Florida since 2004 were fresh in the minds of many.

“Make sure you have the supplies for the 72 hours after the storm,” Gov. Jeb Bush warned from Tallahassee, a day after declaring a state of emergency for all Florida.

Pedro Ballesteros, 40, carried two new 6-gallon gas tanks out of a Home Depot for his home generator.

“Every year we prepare a little more because we’re learning from our past ordeals,” he said. “I’m taking care of everything that’s important – flashlights, batteries, gasoline.”

About 400 miles of the state’s densely populated Atlantic coast and the Keys were under a tropical storm warning and hurricane watch in Ernesto’s path. A tropical storm warning and hurricane watch was extended from Vero Beach on Florida’s Atlantic side to Bonita Beach on the Gulf coast.

At 11 p.m. EDT, the fifth named storm of the hurricane season had top sustained winds of 40 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. It was centered over Cuba, about 320 miles south-southeast of Miami. It was moving west-northwest near 12 mph.

Over the weekend, Ernesto lashed the Dominican Republic and Haiti. One person was reported killed along Haiti’s southern coast.

There were no immediate reports of any damage or injuries in Cuba. Cubans moved cattle to higher ground, tourists were evacuated from hotels, and baseball games were rescheduled for earlier in the day in Havana.

The Bahamas on Monday ordered boats in southern islands to stay in port.


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