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Boston Weather: 63.0°F | A Few Clouds

Florida's South Coast Prepares for Hurricane Georges' Arrival

By Mike Clary
Los Angeles Times
MIAMI

With millions of south Floridians hunkered down, many in boarded up homes well-larded with emergency supplies, a relentless Hurricane Georges began lashing the U.S. coastline with high winds and squally rains late Thursday.

Already blamed for more than 200 deaths in a rampage through the Caribbean, a rejuvenated storm was expected to cross the vulnerable Florida Keys early Friday with winds as great as 100 mph.

"This storm looks like it's all set to explosively intensify once the eye gets over water," Jerry Jarrell, director of Miami's National Hurricane Center, said as Georges moved off the north coast of Cuba in mid-afternoon. "I think we have a developing situation."

The first signs here of the massive storm swept through parts of greater Miami and the upper Florida Keys near sunset.

Although no longer as powerful as the storm that destroyed homes, uprooted trees and caused massive flooding in Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, Georges was expected to pose a danger, especially to those who chose to ignore evacuation orders issued for the Florida Keys and low-lying areas of greater Miami.

"We're extremely concerned that the land areas will be inundated with water and we'll lose a lot of folks down there," Jarrell said.

But evacuation orders are not enforceable, and many Keys residents said they preferred to take their chances. "We got a full house, all locals trying to get one good meal in before a 9 o'clock curfew," said waiter Vinnie Bosco at the Harbor Lights Seafood Restaurant in Key West.

"We've taken all the precautions," Bosco said, "and now we're just waiting to see what happens."

Hurricane warnings were posted early Thursday for four south Florida counties, affecting 4 million residents, and five more counties along the state's Gulf Coast were under a hurricane watch. But the entire state remained on alert.

As winds rolled in, Miami International Airport canceled all flights in and out as of 9 p.m.

At Miami's Metrozoo, all but blown apart by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, animals were locked down inside their nighttime quarters. At cafes along Ocean Drive in fashionable south Miami Beach, sheets of plywood went up over the windows and awnings came down.

As winds in the Miami area picked up through the evening, Georges remained on a northwest course that would bring the eye of the storm over the Florida Keys early Friday with hurricane-force winds, while raking a broad area of south Florida with gales and heavy rains.