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A Year After Andrew, Emily Threatens Florida Coastline

By Mike Clary
Special to the Los Angeles Times

MIAMI

One year and four days after Hurricane Andrew ripped into southern Florida, anxiety ran up the East Coast like an intensifying fever Saturday as Hurricane Emily approached from the Atlantic Ocean.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center here said Emily, the first full-blown hurricane of the season, was at least two days away from striking land and that its target could be anywhere between Miami and Cape Hatteras, N.C.

Late Saturday, the storm was moving west-northwest at 9 mph and was about 900 miles east of the central Florida coast and 400 miles south of Bermuda. Top winds were estimated at 85 mph.

Hurricane watches may go up Sunday. Areas of concern ranged from central Florida to the Carolinas, said Robert C. Sheets, director of the hurricane center.

Sheets said Emily is a "fairly large system" with the potential to bring heavy rainfall. He said forecasters should be able to narrow down where the storm will hit the coast sometime Sunday.

By Saturday afternoon, forecasters had detected a northwesterly curve to the storm's path, and southern Florida seemed likely to dodge Emily.

But neither time nor distance did much to assuage the fears of concerned coastal residents, especially those thousands in southern Florida who lived through Andrew.

"People just aren't going to be caught unprepared again," said John Ruf, manager of Home Depot in Perrine, Fla., a store that was virtually destroyed by Andrew on Aug. 24, 1992.

He said the largest demand was for plywood, used to board up windows. At one point Saturday morning, 8-by-5foot plywood sheets were selling at the rate of 600 an hour, he said.

Robert Bottoms, manager of a supermarket in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. said shoppers were stocking up on "water, batteries, lamp oil, canned goods -- the usual stuff." He said bottled water was selling up to six times faster than normal.

Forecasters said Emily is a typical hurricane for this time of the year, the peak of the tropical storm season, and its path across the Atlantic is similar to that of Andrew.

Born as a wave of low pressure off the coast of Africa on Aug. 16, the storm was identified as a tropical depression last Sunday, and gained hurricane status Friday when its winds topped 74 mph, the minimum threshold.