Friday, August 13, 2004

The eye of Charley

Friday, August 13, 2004 Posted: 3:30 PM EDT (1930 GMT)

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Hurricane Charley, now a powerful Category 4 storm, is expected to make landfall in west Florida's Charlotte Harbor before 4 p.m. ET, the National Weather Service reports.

Hurricane Charley's winds had increased to 145 mph (233 kph), with higher gusts.

The storm was headed toward the Fort Myers-Port Charlotte area, after jogging slightly to the right, said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Originally, Charley was expected to make landfall at Tampa to the north.

At 2 p.m. ET, the storm was centered 60 miles (96 km) south-southwest of Fort Myers, moving to the north-northeast at 20 mph (32 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center.

"The track is a little bit to the right of where we had it before but still well within our hurricane warning area on the southwest coast (of Florida)," Rappaport told CNN.

While he was being interviewed, the hurricane evolved from Category 3 storm to Category 4.

A Category 4 has winds from 131 to 155 mph and is capable of doing extreme damage with heavy flooding.

"It's even stronger than we estimated only an hour or two ago," Rappaport said.

The eye of the storm was 10 miles wide.

The hurricane center predicted the center of the storm would make landfall later Friday afternoon near Charlotte Harbor, about 26 miles (41 km) northwest of Fort Myers.

Hurricanes are classified as categories 1 to 5 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. A Category 4 storm has winds of between 131-155 mph (201-249 kph).

Emergency officials issued evacuation warnings from the Florida Keys up through southwest Florida into the heavily populated Tampa Bay area.

About 1.9 million people have been urged to evacuate, Florida state emergency management center spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told The Associated Press.

Governor urges haste

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush Friday said that residents who have not heeded the warnings need to act quickly.

"When gale force winds start hitting the area, which will happen soon ... law enforcement officials ... will be seeking refuge as well," Bush said.

"This is not a time to be getting on the interstate."

Bush told reporters he talked to his brother, President Bush, Friday and asked him for a presidential disaster declaration.

"I told him this is a devastating storm," Jeb Bush said.

The declaration will allow the application process to begin for Small Business Administration and other loans.

The Office of Emergency Management said 49 shelters were open statewide.

The airports in Tampa, Fort Myers, Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Key West were closed. Orlando's last flight departure was 5 p.m. Friday; service was expected to resume at 10 a.m. Saturday. Trains scheduled to leave New York for Miami were canceled.

Almost all of the 6,500 military members and residents stationed at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base have been evacuated.

Aircraft have been moved to bases in Kansas, Nevada and Maine, a base spokesman said.

The Navy also began moving 12 ships from its Naval Station Mayport, near Jacksonville, into the Atlantic and out of the path of the storm, Navy officials said Friday.

Thursday night and early Friday, Charley roared through Cuba, ripping roofs, downing power lines and pulling up huge palm trees.

Havana had high winds and heavy rain, but there were no reports of casualties.

A hurricane warning for the island was lifted Friday morning.

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