- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

MIAMI (AP) — Tropical Storm Gamma blew along the coasts of Belize and Honduras yesterday as it threatened to turn onto a path that could endanger South Florida this week.

The storm already had caused flooding and landslides in Honduras that killed at least two persons and prompted the government to evacuate hundreds from coastal towns.

Gamma, the 24th storm of the busiest hurricane season on record, had top sustained wind near 45 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Gamma was expected to turn toward the north and east today, sending it across the northeastern Caribbean and toward western Cuba. On that forecast path, Gamma would cross Cuba and approach the Florida Keys island chain tomorrow.

That path seems similar to the one taken by Hurricane Wilma, which tore across the southern portion of the state on Oct. 24, killing 21 persons and causing widespread damage.

However, while the storm was expected to strengthen, the hurricane center said its top sustained wind speed would likely remain near 50 to 55 mph — below the 74 mph threshold for a hurricane.

“We don’t foresee any significant changes in the environment throughout the evolution of this system,” said U.S. Navy forecaster Dave Roberts. “This is a completely different situation compared to Wilma” in terms of its intensity, he said.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect yesterday for the north coast of Belize and the Bay Islands of Honduras. Mexico issued a tropical storm watch for the eastern Yucatan Peninsula, which was hit hard last month by Hurricane Wilma. Six to 15 inches of rain was possible.

Two persons were missing in Belize in a small plane belonging to the exclusive Blancaneaux Lodge resort, owned by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Five fishermen were missing after their boat capsized.

Florida has been pummeled by eight hurricanes and three tropical storms in the past 15 months. Insured losses from this year’s storms are estimated at more than $10 billion in Florida, according to the state Department of Financial Services.

Gamma extended the Atlantic’s record-breaking storm season. The previous record of 21 named storms had stood since 1933 and, for the first time, officials had to turn to the Greek alphabet for names.

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