Hurricane Katrina could hit Florida again

August 27, 2005|By John-Thor Dahlburg and Jenny Jarvie | John-Thor Dahlburg and Jenny Jarvie,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - One day after Hurricane Katrina delivered a soggy wallop to some of Miami's southwestern suburbs, where streets and neighborhoods were under water yesterday, Florida's emergency planners were bracing for a second landfall by the hurricane as an even more dangerous storm.

After crossing the southern tip of the Florida Peninsula, where its winds and downpours Thursday evening led to widespread street flooding and at least six deaths, Katrina reached the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where it absorbed enough energy to boost its sustained winds to 100 mph.

Forecasters said the storm, a Category 2 hurricane, might intensify further as it turned north and headed toward the Gulf Coast.

"We are looking at major hurricane: a strong Category 3 or perhaps a 4 at landfall," said Ben Nelson, state meteorologist for the Florida Division of Emergency Management in Tallahassee. "We expect it to hit landfall sometime on Monday."

A Category 3 hurricane carries highly destructive sustained winds of 111 to 130 mph; a Category 4 has even more damaging winds of 131 to 155 mph. As Katrina's course stood yesterday, it could make its second landfall anywhere from Florida's Big Bend region to New Orleans, Nelson said.

In Florida's Panhandle, officials and residents were warily monitoring what could become the third big hurricane to strike their area in less than a year. The region was hammered in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan and last month by Hurricane Dennis.

"We're still cleaning up the debris from Hurricane Dennis," Sonya Smith, spokeswoman for Escambia County, Fla., government, said from Pensacola. "There are still tree limbs on the roadside and homes with blue roofs [tarps]. We have buildings which have lost one, even two walls, that haven't been repaired. It's just been too soon."

In Homestead, Kendall, Naranja, Goulds and other southern Miami suburbs, streets and parking lots, and some homes, were still flooded yesterday with pools of tepid water.

Then a Category 1 hurricane, Katrina had been moving west most of Thursday but took an unexpected southerly jog, catching many residents of southern Miami-Dade County by surprise. They had been counting on the storm to soak Fort Lauderdale and other areas in Broward County to the north.

The hurricane's heaviest rainfall, 13 1/4 inches, was registered by a rain gauge in Homestead, the South Florida Water Management District said. Elsewhere in Miami-Dade County, 6 to 10 inches of rain fell. As of 6 p.m. yesterday, some western areas of the county remained under water, said Jose Puentes, director of the water management district's Miami service center.

At midday, Megan Janosky, 11, ventured out on her bicycle with her father and older brother to survey the snapped-off palm trees, missing shingles and other damage done by Katrina the previous evening to Country Walk, the bedroom community where they live. The water in the street was so deep that at one point, said the sixth-grader, she could immerse her bike's front wheel, which was about 2 feet high.

"We weren't supposed to be hit. This was supposed to be Broward's storm," said Michael Janosky Sr., 45, the children's father.

Country Walk, like some other areas of southern Miami-Dade doused by Katrina, was also blasted in 1992 by Andrew, the most destructive hurricane on record, which left $25.5 billion worth of property damage in its wake as it cut across Florida south of Miami.

Yesterday two male boaters died in the Dinner Key area of Miami, one from injuries suffered when Katrina tossed around his 25-foot boat, the other after his houseboat capsized in the storm.

Broward County authorities reported four hurricane-related fatalities: an elderly woman hit by a falling tree in Davie, a 79-year-old man killed in a car crash in Cooper City, a 25-year-old man crushed by a falling tree as he sat in his car in Fort Lauderdale, and a Plantation man struck by a tree as he surveyed storm damage to his home.

Sporadic rain continued throughout South Florida yesterday, and authorities advised people to stay off the streets, many of which were still littered by downed tree branches and other storm debris.

More than 1 million homes and businesses were without power. "At the height of the storm, 1.4 million customers were impacted," said Steve Stengel, a spokesman for Florida Power & Light. By yesterday morning, Stengel said, a field force of 11,700 linemen, tree trimmers and other personnel had managed to restore electricity to about 300,000.

On Thursday, a family of five was reported missing as they tried to travel by 24-foot boat from Marathon in the Florida Keys to Cape Coral on the Gulf Coast.

Edward and Tina Larsen and their children, 17, 14 and 4, were found off Everglades City on a mangrove island, the Coast Guard said yesterday. They were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter from Clearwater and flown to Fort Myers. The family was reportedly in good condition and not in need of medical care. The Coast Guard said they were being interviewed to determine how they came to be stranded.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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