Reuters Miami - Hundreds of thousands of Florida coastal dwellers were ordered out of their homes last night as Tropical Storm Erin neared hurricane strength and spun through the Bahamas on a collision course with the US mainland.
The rapid approach of the storm, which formed late on Sunday in the Atlantic, sent residents of south Florida scurrying for emergency supplies and dredged up memories of Hurricane Andrew, the costliest natural disaster in US history.
Emergency services in the heavily populated Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas and the Florida Keys ordered thousands of people to evacuate mobile homes, low-lying coastal areas and barrier islands. Between 600,000 and 800,000 people live in Dade County's evacuation zone.
"Everyone needs to follow the evacuation order. Lives are very clearly held in the balance," said Dade County Commissioner Bruce Kaplan.
Florida's Governor, Lawton Chiles, declared a state of emergency in south and central Florida, activating the state's emergency operations centre.