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Katrina aims at Fla. Panhandle



Published: Sat, August 27, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The storm was reminiscent of Hurricane Andrew, which struck the area 13 years ago.

COMBINED DISPATCHES

MIAMI -- South Floridians once again began to rebuild.

They cleared streets transformed into mile-long canals, some dammed by fallen trees. They patched tattered roofs, salvaged destroyed mobile homes and perspired in the heat without electricity to power air conditioning.

It seemed hauntingly familiar Friday, almost exactly 13 years after another disaster struck.

"We're calling this Little Andrew," said Lawrence Percival of Kendall, whose driveway was blocked by a 30-foot downed oak.

The death toll rose to six Friday, and South Floridians coped with floods, sweeping power outages and forests of toppled trees as Hurricane Katrina -- the storm that refuses to die -- slapped the Florida Keys and moved into the Gulf of Mexico.

There, it strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane and took aim at the upper Gulf Coast, with arrival expected Monday, possibly as a Category 4 storm. That region includes New Orleans and the Florida Panhandle, which was slammed by hurricanes Ivan last year and Dennis in early July.

"It's on its way to being a major hurricane," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami-Dade County.

Said Gov. Jeb Bush: "People should not take anything for granted. You have to assume the worst."

In South Florida, Katrina did not deliver the worst blow that hurricanes can produce -- the top-of-scale Category 5 Hurricane Andrew managed that feat Aug. 24, 1992, when it bulldozed much of South Miami-Dade County -- but this latest disaster was bad enough.

Damage more widespread

And in one way, it was worse. Andrew limited itself largely to a small part of Miami-Dade. Katrina blanketed Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and parts of Palm Beach County with misery.

Police said Friday that two people died at the free anchorage outside Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove.

"Quite a few houseboats turned over," said Miami Police Chief John Timoney. "I wouldn't be surprised if we find a few more bodies."

Four people were killed in Broward -- three by falling trees and one in a storm-related traffic accident.

More than 1.45 million customers lost power during the storm and about 1 million customers -- translating into millions of people -- remained in the heat and dark Friday night.

Also without power: the Port Everglades fuel depot, a development that temporarily curtailed most deliveries of gasoline in South Florida.

Early estimates by the insurance industry of local property damage ranged from $600 million to $2 billion. The Federal Emergency Management Agency monitored the situation and said assessment crews could hit the streets Saturday.

A few bright spots

In one piece of good news, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport reopened.

In another, the Dolphin Expressway reopened to traffic after workers removed 1,500 tons of concrete and steel that rained down on the major east-west artery after an under-construction overpass collapsed.

A Miami Herald helicopter tour of Miami-Dade and Broward counties revealed widespread flooding in Country Walk and Saga Bay in South Dade, uprooted palms in Coconut Grove and Coral Gables and significant beach erosion in Fort Lauderdale.

The further south one traveled, the more extensive the damage.

Getting around

Residents living along a neighborhood lake in Saga Bay spent the day sweeping water out of their living rooms. Others navigated flood waters using bicycles, boats, canoes and even a makeshift raft.

In Homestead, fields of trees looked like they had been bulldozed by a tornado, with entire neighborhoods littered. In one neighborhood, a wood-frame house was the only thing standing, surrounded by shattered trees, limbs snapped in two as though they were pencils.

At 8 p.m. EDT, Katrina was about 100 miles west of Key West. It was moving toward the west-southwest near 8 mph. Still a Category 2 storm, its sustained winds were near 100 mph.

The National Hurricane Center said Katrina was expected to strengthen significantly over warm Gulf waters and warned residents from Florida to southeast Louisiana to be ready.

Hardware stores in the Panhandle reported increased sales of gasoline containers, lanterns, batteries and tarps. Joe Crews at Meredith and Sons Lumber in Gulf Breeze said a steady stream of people came in to buy plywood Thursday.

"They're not anxious, but they are cautious," he said. "A lot of them haven't gotten repaired since the last storms, and they want to try to take the steps to save what they've got left."




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