- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2004

MIAMI (AP) — Florida braced for a potential double dose of hurricanes today, ordering Florida Keys visitors to get out of Hurricane Charley’s path and preparing for possible flooding as Tropical Storm Bonnie approached the already soaked Panhandle.

Bonnie, which was approaching hurricane strength yesterday, was forecast to hit the state early today, at least 12 hours earlier than Charley.

The prospect of back-to-back hurricanes prompted Gov. Jeb Bush to declare a state of emergency for all of Florida as schools and government offices announced closings and forecasters warned residents to prepare for the worst.

Such a double-whammy hasn’t happened in Florida since Oct. 17, 1906, when two tropical storms hit the state, said Ken Reeves, the senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, a commercial forecasting center.

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch or warning for most of northwest Florida, from the Alabama border to the Suwannee River on the Florida-Georgia border, because of Bonnie. The warning means hurricane conditions are possible within a day, and the watch means within 36 hours.

Charley grew to hurricane strength around midday yesterday before spinning by Jamaica and doing some minor damage. Hurricane watches were posted for the Keys, the southwestern Florida mainland and western Cuba. A hurricane warning was issued for the Cayman Islands.

Charley was forecast to hit or pass close to the lower Keys late today, then hit the southwestern Florida mainland early tomorrow with winds of 85 to 105 mph, forecasters said.

Monroe County emergency officials told visitors to evacuate the entire 100-mile-long island chain. The trip can take several hours because there is only one road, the Overseas Highway, from Key West to Key Largo and only two linking Key Largo to the mainland.

At a Days Inn in Key West, manager Lisa Kaminski already had started telling the hotel’s approximately 200 guests that they had to leave and warning off people who had reservations.

“We’re telling people that the hurricane will probably be here Friday and it’s in their best interest not to come,” she said.

But she said she and her employees weren’t worried. “We’re staying. This isn’t a big one,” Miss Kaminski said.

Mr. Bush activated the Florida National Guard to prepare to respond to any damage and said more evacuations may be needed.

Public schools were scheduled to be closed today and tomorrow in the Keys, and schools and government offices were to be closed today in parts of the Panhandle.

At 8 p.m. yesterday, Charley had top sustained winds of about 75 mph and was expected to strengthen.

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