- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Tropical Storm Arlene weakened as it blew ashore yesterday on the Gulf Coast, but still packed enough punch that it brought sheets of rain, 20-foot waves and heavy wind to the same area that was devastated by Hurricane Ivan nine months ago.

The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season had threatened to strengthen to a hurricane but had sustained winds of only about 60 mph when it made landfall about 3 p.m., just west of Pensacola. Tropical storms are upgraded to hurricanes when sustained winds reach 74 mph.

Arlene came ashore a bit east of where Ivan hit with 120-mph winds on Sept. 16. Ivan, blamed for 29 deaths in Florida, was one of four hurricanes to batter the state last summer in the space of weeks.

“This is nothing like the thing we had last year,” said Kris Davis, a waitress at McGuire’s Irish Pub in coastal Destin.

Initial damage reports were minimal; about 11,300 homes and businesses on the Gulf Coast were without power yesterday evening. A few Panhandle bridges were closed because of wind, and some flooding on Alabama’s coastal highways was reported.

There were no reports of deaths blamed on the storm yesterday, but one woman died Friday after being pulled from strong surf on Miami Beach, more than 500 miles southeast of the landfall point.

Arlene later weakened, with maximum sustained winds at 35 mph and was downgraded to a tropical depression, but was expected to continue lashing a wide swath of the region for several hours, perhaps stretching into early today. Meteorologists said as much as 8 inches of rain was possible in some areas, along with tornadoes and flooding.

Many feared that Arlene would set back the efforts to rebuild homes damaged by Ivan. Numerous homes in the region are still under repair, with flimsy plastic tarps still serving as roofing on many houses.

“It looks like we’re going to come out a lot better than what was first expected or forecast,” said Jerry Henderson, a spokesman for the Santa Rosa County sheriff’s office in Florida’s Panhandle.

While groups of spectators gathered on the shore to watch the hammering surf, a few surfers hit the 20-foot waves at Gulf Shores, Ala.

Gulf Shores police Cpl. Bill Cowan ordered a group of about seven boys and men out of the waves, threatening them with arrest. “They didn’t really know you could die doing that,” he said.

Bob Garcia checked into a Red Cross shelter at Gulf Shores with his son, Tommy. They live in a mobile home in Summerdale, Ala., and Mr. Garcia said there was “no sense in taking chances” with the possibility of tornadoes developing as Arlene plowed ashore.

He was one of only 13 persons in that shelter yesterday morning. Shelters also were largely empty in Florida; eight were open by midday but only 212 persons checked in, state officials said. On the Mississippi coast, Jackson County opened one shelter and no one showed up, said Civil Defense Director Butch Loper.

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