Fay Approaches Florida
Visitors urged to leave Florida Keys ahead of Fay
The Associated Press
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.
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 wife, Tonya. 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.
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.
Flooding from Fay killed four people Saturday in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Landfall in the U.S. 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.
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 operations center.
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.
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