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Bloomberg: Tropical Storm Ernesto Strengthens, Heads for Florida (Update1)

EXTRACT: Royal Dutch Shell Plc said it has prioritized delivery to its Shell and Motiva gas stations along evacuation routes to ensure drivers can refuel, according to a statement from the company. It also has generators in place ready to power pumps.

THE ARTICLE

By Alex Morales and Courtney Dentch

Aug. 29 (Bloomberg) — Tropical Storm Ernesto regained strength as it moved out over water after crossing Cuba and headed toward Florida, where watches and warnings were extended.

The storm’s maximum sustained winds accelerated to 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour) from 40 mph earlier, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an online advisory at 8 a.m. New York time. The storm’s center was about 200 miles southeast of Key West, Florida, over the Florida Straits, moving toward the northwest at about 14 mph.

The storm, which two days ago was a hurricane with winds of at least 74 mph, may near that intensity by the time it reaches Florida as early as tonight, hurricane center forecasters said. Hurricanes typically gain strength over warm water, and lose it when passing over land.

“Residents of mainland south Florida who are waiting until the last minute before putting up shutters are urged to go ahead and do it, because Ernesto is forecast to strengthen, possibly to a hurricane, by the time he makes landfall,” the Miami-based center said in its latest advisory.

In Florida, a tropical storm warning and hurricane watch on the east coast was extended northward to New Smyrna Beach from the tip of the peninsula. The same provisions were in place from the Florida Keys to Bonita beach on the west.

Florida Prepares

Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who declared a state of emergency and ordered all visitors to leave the Keys over the weekend, urged residents in areas that may be affected to have enough supplies for three days.

“We want people to understand that they really have to watch out for themselves for the first three to five days,” said Steve Bayer, a spokesman for the American Red Cross, in a telephone interview yesterday from Palm Beach, Florida. “They can’t expect anyone knocking on their door with food, water and ice. It’s just not going to happen.”

Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, Monroe County, where the Keys are located, and Miami-Dade County opened their emergency operations centers. Lines formed for gasoline throughout southern Florida as residents prepared to evacuate.

Gasoline Demand

“It’s not only the people filling up their cars this year,” Bayer said. “We saw the people coming out of the Home Depot with 4- to 5-gallon gas cans for their new generators. Put those gas cans in the same line, and it was bound to happen. Our message is: Get out now. Those people who wait until tomorrow are going to be very, very unhappy.”

The approach of the storm forced the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to scrub today’s space shuttle launch.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc said it has prioritized delivery to its Shell and Motiva gas stations along evacuation routes to ensure drivers can refuel, according to a statement from the company. It also has generators in place ready to power pumps.

Port Everglades, the source of gasoline shipments for 12 southern Florida counties, isn’t allowing tankers into port to offload until the storm passes, said Ellen Kennedy, a spokeswoman for the Fort Lauderdale facility.

Katrina Anniversary

Ernesto, the fifth named storm of the June-to-November Atlantic hurricane season, formed late last week. Its arrival in Florida comes on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on the Gulf Coast. That storm became the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, causing more than $81 billion in damage, killing more than 1,800 people and displacing hundreds of thousands of others.

Ernesto may drop as many of 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain on parts of eastern and southern Florida through tomorrow, the hurricane center said. The storm was forecast to pour up to 10 inches of rain on Cuba, triggering flash floods and mudslides, the hurricane center said. Cuba’s tropical storm warning was canceled as of 8 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center said computer models forecast that Ernesto will exit Florida on its northeastern coast and make a second landfall in the Carolinas within 72 hours.

Ernesto’s turn away from the Gulf pushed natural gas prices down in New York yesterday, as the risk of disruption to the region’s production receded. Gasoline and heating-oil futures fell for the first time in three days.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at [email protected] ; Courtney Dentch in New York at [email protected] .

Last Updated: August 29, 2006 09:20 EDT

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