Storm closes in on Fla.

Published 10:42 pm Saturday, August 16, 2008

Florida’s governor declared an emergency for the state Saturday due to the threat of Tropical Storm Fay, which forecasters say could bring hurricane-force winds to the Florida Keys as soon as Monday.

Fay could hit as a Category 1 or 2 hurricane, with winds perhaps reaching more than 100 mph, forecasters said, stressing that it was too early to tell how intense the storm would become.

In anticipation, Gov. Charlie Crist declared the emergency to help protect communities from the storm, which “threatens the state of Florida with a major disaster,” the executive order said.

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Flooding from Fay killed two people and left two children missing in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, authorities said Saturday.

orecasters said the storm could reach hurricane strength when it approaches central Cuba on Sunday, and the government there issued a hurricane watch for several provinces.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami reported that as of 2 p.m. EDT, the storm’s center was about 50 miles southeast of Guantanamo, Cuba. It had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph. To become a hurricane, sustained winds must be at least 74 mph.

Florida officials said an emergency declaration is a normal procedure.

At the same time, state officials in Tallahassee opened the emergency operations center, said Blair Heusdens, a spokeswoman for the state’s Division of Emergency Management.

“We like to have the executive order in place before the storm,” Heusdens said. “That way we can have our resources ready.”

The city of Key West also planned to open its emergency operation center Saturday.

Meteorologist Christopher Juckins said Florida residents should be prepared for a hurricane. A Category 1 has winds from 74-95 mph and a Category 2 has winds from 96-110 mph.

“The official track brings it off the west coast of Florida Tuesday and Wednesday, however, the track is always uncertain and the entire peninsula of Florida needs to pay attention to the storm,” said Juckins of the Hurricane Center.

Juckins said if the storm veers to the east, it could pass over the Miami area early Tuesday.

However, if it tracks farther west and remains over the Gulf of Mexico, it would hit landfall farther north and later in the week.

Fay is the sixth storm to form in the Atlantic this season.