By BRIAN SKOLOFF
Associated Press Writer
KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) - A light stream of traffic headed out of
Key West Sunday morning as officials urged visitors to leave the
string of low-lying islands ahead of Tropical Storm Fay, which
forecasters said could strengthen to a hurricane.
Fay could start pelting parts of the Keys and South Florida late
Monday or early Tuesday as a strong tropical storm or minimal
hurricane. Keys officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for
visitors starting at 8 a.m. Sunday and asked those who had not yet
arrived to postpone their trips.
"We hate to inconvenience those visitors that had plans to be
in the Keys the next few days, but their well-being is our top
priority," said Monroe County Mayor Mario Di Gennaro, chairman of
the Keys tourist development council.
Officials said hotels and businesses won't be forced to remove
visitors, but should use common sense.
With the warnings, some Key West businesses began putting up
hurricane shutters, but tourists and residents still strolled
lazily through downtown, having coffee and eating breakfast.
"We've been living in Florida now for 10 years, so we need to
get some stuff together, but we're not going to rush out of here,"
John Civette said as he strolled the shop-lined streets with his
Civette said they would cut their vacation short and head home
to the southwest Florida city of Bonita Springs to prepare their
home for the storm.
Paul and Sandy Dunko, of Naples, Fla., were having breakfast
with their family Sunday morning before heading home to secure
their boat and put up their hurricane shutters. Fay could reach
that area late Monday or early Tuesday.
"We've got to get back and buckle up our own house," Paul
Dunko said. "We're hoping the traffic won't be too horrible."
The sixth storm of the 2008 Atlantic season picked up some
momentum early Sunday morning as it headed toward Cuba, and could
be a hurricane by the time it reaches the island's center,
forecasters said. At 8 a.m. EDT Sunday, Fay's center was located
about 395 miles southeast of Key West and moving west-northwest at
13 miles per hour. The storm had maximum sustained winds near 50
mph with some gusting.
Flooding from Fay killed four people Saturday in the Dominican
Republic and Haiti.
Landfall could potentially be late Tuesday or early Wednesday
and it could be anywhere from the western coast to the southwestern
coast of Florida, hurricane center meteorologist Christopher
Juckins said Fay's track is similar to 2004's Hurricane Charley,
a much stronger Category 4 storm.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency
Saturday as officials in Tallahassee opened their emergency
A hurricane watch was in effect in the Keys from south of Ocean
Reef to Key West, including the Dry Tortugas and Florida Bay and on
the southern tip of the mainland from Card Sound Bridge to Bonita
Beach. A watch means hurricane conditions are possible in those
areas within 36 hours. A tropical storm watch was also in effect
for the southeast coast of Florida from Ocean Reef north to Jupiter
Inlet, as well as for Lake Okeechobee.
Keys emergency officials often take the precaution of ordering
early evacuations when a storm threatens because traffic can back
up for miles on the single highway to Florida's mainland.
Besides the threat of damage from high winds, most of the
islands sit at sea level and could be flooded by Fay's storm surge.
Key West was last seriously affected by a hurricane in 2005 when
Wilma, a Category 3 storm, sped past. The town, especially the
tourist district, escaped widespread wind damage, but a storm surge
left hundreds of homes and some businesses flooded. The deadliest
storm to hit the island was a Category 4 hurricane in 1919 that
killed up to 900 people there and elsewhere, many of them offshore
on ships that sunk.
The Category 5 Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 passed over the
middle Keys with estimated wind gusts of 150 to 200 mph. It killed
more than 400 people, more than half of them World War I veterans
living in rehabilitation camps.