- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

Nearly a million residents and tourists in Florida were told yesterday to get out of the way of a rapidly strengthening Hurricane Charley, as Cuba battened down for landfall last night.

Cuban authorities evacuated 200,000 residents and 2,000 foreign tourists from western Cuba yesterday before Charley’s arrival.

Cuba’s Meteorology Institute said the hurricane would hit Havana, the western province of Pinar del Rio and Isla de la Juventud early this morning with winds of up to 130 mph.

“The hurricane will continue to gather strength, possibly reaching Category 3, a hurricane of great intensity,” the institute said last night.

Charley was expected to hit Florida’s west coast today, possibly bringing heavy rain, swirling tornadoes and a storm surge of up to 12 feet to the Tampa Bay and Fort Myers areas.

Charley’s weaker sister, Tropical Storm Bonnie, blustered ashore yesterday in the Florida Panhandle. The storms are forecasted to dump up to seven inches of rain on the Washington metropolitan area over the next two days and cause flash floods.

The back-to-back storms — the first to menace the state so close together since 1906 — prompted Gov. Jeb Bush to declare a state of emergency across Florida.

“It does have the potential of devastating impact. … This is a scary, scary thing,” he said.

There were no reports of heavy rains or flooding in already soaked areas of the panhandle after Bonnie’s disorganized center blustered ashore with wind near 50 mph. By midday, Apalachicola looked as if nothing had happened. The sun was shining and the surf was calming down.

Charley loomed, however, prompting evacuation requests for about 1 million residents and tourists along coastal areas from the Florida Keys to Tampa. The evacuations included flood-prone sections of the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.

All residents of MacDill Air Force Base have been ordered to evacuate, and only essential personnel will remain, spokeswoman Lt. Erin Dorrance said. MacDill is home to U.S. Central Command, the nerve center of the war in Iraq, and the Special Operations Command.

“MacDill Air Force Base will probably be mostly underwater and parts of downtown Tampa could be underwater if we have a Category 3,” state meteorologist Ben Nelson said. “In a Category 3, you can almost get to the point where Pinellas County becomes an island.”

This is Florida’s biggest evacuation request since 1999, when Hurricane Floyd brushed the state’s east coast and prompted officials to urge 1.3 million to evacuate. Florida’s popular tourist island, Key West, 90 miles north of Cuba, could see hurricane conditions within a day.

Two million Havana residents braced for the storm in a city whose decrepit buildings have not withstood a hurricane since Kate in 1985.

Authorities yesterday set up shelters with food and doctors, and shut off electricity as a precaution, local media said. Cubans stockpiled drinking water, candles, food and batteries. They took down television antennas, secured windows and roofs.

Jamaican authorities said one person was killed as Charley swept south of their island Wednesday. The man drowned while trying to rescue a group of people from floodwaters in the village of Big Woods in the St. Elizabeth Parish.

Charley’s most likely track would take it close to Key West today before hitting the U.S. mainland near Tampa and St. Petersburg with winds up to 110 mph, heavy rain, sporadic tornadoes and a storm surge of 10 to 13 feet.

Mr. Nelson said the surge could reach 16 feet in the Tampa area if Charley hits at 120 mph.

In the Keys, tourists had been told to leave Wednesday, and the order was expanded yesterday to include a mandatory evacuation of mobile homes in the lower Keys.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide