Storm Gordon Hits Florida Coast


Monday, September 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


CEDAR KEY, Fla. (AP) — Residents of this rustic fishing town cleaned up broken tree limbs and surveyed roof damage Monday after Gordon plowed ashore with wind just below hurricane strength and quickly weakened.

The former hurricane was downgraded to a tropical depression Monday as it spread locally heavy rain through Georgia and into the Carolinas. Rain had stopped falling at Cedar Key but the sky was still overcast Monday.

No deaths or injuries had been reported, but there was still a possibility of tornadoes along the coast from South Carolina into southern North Carolina. At least one tornado was reported Sunday evening in Palm Beach County.

Gordon hit Cedar Key and the rest of Florida's upper central Gulf Coast about 8 p.m. Sunday with drenching rain and a 6-foot storm surge topped by waves.

Most of Cedar Key's 800 residents had stayed home to face the storm, which never grew much above minimum hurricane strength, ignoring suggestions that they voluntarily evacuate.

``Everything worked out real good on the storm,'' Mayor Heath Davis said at daybreak. ``It fell apart after landfall, and came in after high tide. If any of those circumstances had been different, we would have had a serious problem.''

Storm damage on the island appeared limited to a few downed trees, roofs that lost shingles and power lines brought down by falling tree limbs. All power was restored by daybreak in the community about 100 miles north of Tampa.

``We expected the wind damage to be about what it is.'' Davis said. ``We're relieved we didn't get the storm surge everybody anticipated.''

A surge of up to 10 feet had been forecast; Cedar Key sits only 2 to 3 feet above sea level.

The storm's top sustained wind blew at 70 mph, just below hurricane strength of 74 mph, when Gordon crossed the Florida coast. Earlier, it had reached 75 mph.

By 8 a.m. Monday, Gordon's top wind speed had fallen to 35 mph, mainly off the Atlantic coast, and it was centered about 55 miles west of Brunswick, Ga. Radar showed its heaviest rain falling over the eastern Carolinas.

The storm was moving to the north-northeast at 12 mph.

``This motion is expected to continue today as the depression moves along the southeast U.S. coast,'' said hurricane specialist Miles Lawrence at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Emergency officials along South Carolina's north coast expected 3 to 5 inches of rain.

In Georgia, Savannah-area students got the day off as Chatham County officials closed schools as a precaution.

Heavy rain fell around Valdosta, Ga., and was scattered into central Georgia. ``We needed it. It's been dry,'' said Atkinson County sheriff's Deputy Randy Tucker.

About 121,000 homes throughout Florida lost power Sunday.

State officials said about 750 people went to emergency shelters, dozens of flights were canceled at Tampa International Airport, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball game with the Oakland A's was called off.

Flooding was reported in southwest Florida, said Michael Loehr, operations chief for the State Emergency Operations Center.

``We've already gotten calls from Charlotte County saying they've got houses on the coast where you open the front door, the water's coming in; you open the back door, water's going out,'' he said.

Gordon had earlier poured heavy rain across Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and parts of Cuba. But it weakened as it neared Florida and pulled in dry air from the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere in the Southeast, said meteorologist Hugh Cobb at the hurricane center.

``We came out good I think, we were very fortunate,'' said Frances Nesbitt, a Cedar Keys real estate agent. ``I'm not for hurricanes by any means, but Florida's been having a drought. The only good thing it does, it raises the water level.''

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On the Net:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov

State web site: http://www.floridadisaster.org