Florida battens down for Hurricane Floyd

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The Independent Online
FLORIDA WAS bracing itself for the arrival of Hurricane Floyd last night as the storm gathered pace with winds exceeding 150mph. Residents were evacuated from the state's barrier islands as meteorologists watched the season's biggest hurricane head for the mainland.

The storm was about 500 miles south-east of Florida, and a hurricane watch was put in place from Miami to south-east Georgia, in the south- east Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands. A hurricane warning was in place for the north-west and central Bahamas, which are closer to the storm.

In the Bahamas, a collection of 700 islands stretching from near the Florida coast to north of Haiti, the islands' 287,000 residents battened down and began to move into shelters. Shoppers in the capital, Nassau, loaded up on food and kerosene for lamps.

Schools were shuttered and guests in small hotels were moved to the luxury Atlantis casino resort on Paradise Island. "That's going to be used as a shelter because it's one of the biggest hotels," said Able Seaman Owen Thompson of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.The government ordered the evacuation of low-lying areas.

Hurricane watchers tracking the storm said they expected it to turn north before hitting land, but its winds might be felt on the mainland today. "Nobody on the [US] east coast can ignore this storm," said Jerry Jarrell, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The state was taking no chances, as Floyd was on the verge of becoming a Category 5 storm. Only two storms of that intensity have ever hit the US, and both killed hundreds of people. Miami remembers Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which killed dozens of people and made hundreds of thousands homeless. Even if Floyd fails to make landfall, the winds would do enormous damage.

At the Kennedy Space Center, concern was mounting over the possibility of damage to Nasa's four space shuttles. All of the shuttles are in hangars, but the buildings are designed to withstand wind of no more than 125mph. Even if the hurricane skirts the central Florida coast and passes 35 miles offshore, forecasters have warned Nasa to expect 150mph winds tomorrow. Nasa was planning to close down the space center last night and evacuate most of its 12,500 workers.

The space center is only nine feet above sea level, so a storm surge could be as devastating as the anticipated winds.

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