I Don't Wanna Die...
TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 13) -- Officials warned about a million residents and tourists along Florida's Gulf Coast Thursday to get out of the way of Hurricane Charley, saying parts of Tampa's downtown and nearby areas could be submerged by the massive storm surge likely when the hurricane strikes on Friday. ''It does have the potential of devastating impact. ... This is a scary, scary thing,'' Gov. Jeb Bush said.
The evacuation zone stretched along Florida's west coast from Key West to north of Tampa.
Charley was expected to pass west of the Keys at Florida's tip early Friday before hitting the Tampa Bay area in the afternoon with winds up to 120 mph, heavy rain, tornadoes and the dangerous storm surge, said Hugh Cobb, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. With winds that high, it would be a powerful Category 3 hurricane.
Radar showed the first rain bands hitting the lower Keys on Thursday night.
Residents of the Tampa Bay area, where the eye is projected to hit, southward to the Naples area were told to expect a storm surge of 10-13 feet. State meteorologist Ben Nelson said the surge could reach 16 feet in the Tampa area if Charley reaches 120 mph wind.
The bulk of the evacuations were in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, which include Tampa and St. Petersburg, a city that sits on a peninsula.
All residents of MacDill Air Force Base, on another peninsula in Tampa Bay, were ordered out, with only essential personnel remaining. MacDill is home to U.S. Central Command, the nerve center of the war in Iraq.
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''MacDill Air Force Base will probably be mostly underwater and parts of downtown Tampa could be underwater if we have a Category 3,'' Nelson said. ''In a Category 3, you can almost get to the point where Pinellas County becomes an island.''
''There will be a period of time where if you stay behind and you change your mind and you want to be rescued, no one can help you. We aren't going to go out on a suicide mission,'' Pinellas Emergency Management Chief Gary Vickers told people in the evacuation zone.
Heavy traffic flowed across the three Tampa Bay bridges linking Pinellas with Hillsborough and the mainland. Officials worried about traffic jams Friday morning.
''The highway system was never designed to move this many people this quickly,'' state emergency management director Craig Fugate said.
Charley became a Caribbean hurricane Wednesday, moving past Jamaica and over the Cayman Islands. At 2 a.m., the hurricane's eye was over Cuba, 14 miles west of downtown Havana.
Forecasters said Charley had top sustained winds of about 105 mph. It was moving north-northwest near 14 mph and was expected to strengthen, meteorologists said. Hurricane force winds extended outward 30 miles from the eye; tropical storm force winds went out 125 miles.
The hurricane bore down after Tropical Storm Bonnie's disorganized center sloshed ashore Thursday morning on the central Florida Panhandle with winds estimated near 50 mph. Bonnie failed to produce any flooding rains, but some strong squalls were reported. It weakened into a depression and was no longer a threat as it moved into southern Georgia, Cobb said.
The one-two punch of tropical weather was highly unusual. Storms have not struck so close together in Florida since 1906.
About 6.5 million of Florida's 17 million residents were in Charley's projected path, the U.S. Census Bureau reported.
The evacuation request was Florida's biggest since 1999, when Hurricane Floyd brushed the state's east coast and prompted officials to urge a record 1.3 million to evacuate.
Many residents prepared for the worst, buying plywood to board up homes and stocking up on water, canned food and batteries to ride out the hurricane. Beth Ciombor of Sarasota was at a Home Depot loading two sheets of plywood onto the top of her minivan while her 2-year-old son watched.
''I'm on the verge of tears. It's so frightening,'' she said.
A hurricane warning was issued for the Keys from the Dry Tortugas to the Seven Mile Bridge and along southwestern Florida from the southern tip of the mainland to the mouth of the Suwannee River, 110 miles north of the St. Petersburg area. A tropical storm warning was in effect for the middle and upper Keys and Florida Bay. A tropical storm watch was in effect from northern Key Largo north to the South Santee River in South Carolina.
In the Keys, a steady line of traffic, marked by sport utility vehicles pulling boats on trailers, drove north along U.S. 1 on Thursday as visitors and mobile home residents followed orders to evacuate the entire 100-mile-long island chain.
Al Perkins, 55, a small business owner in Key West, placed office computers and a photocopier in garbage bags while a colleague hammered metal hurricane shutters over windows.
''If it gets over 150 miles per hour winds, I'm outta here. Anything less than that, I've already been in, so it's not a problem,'' he said.
Key West International Airport closed Thursday in anticipation of Charley, and St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport closed after the last flight Thursday night. Flights at Tampa International Airport were expected to cease around noon Friday, but operations at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport were to continue at least through Friday afternoon.
Amtrak suspended train service between New York City and Miami for Friday. Amtrak's Auto Train that operates between Lorton, Va. and Sanford, Fla., was also canceled Friday. Service between Boston, Washington, D.C., and Newport News, Va. was not affected.
Bonnie and Charley are the second and third named storms of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
It's gonna pass about right over Lakeland(where I live). I don't wanna die before getting with Torrie.