Floridians Brace for Debby

Wednesday, August 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) — Debby was barely a hurricane Wednesday and still hundreds of miles away, but many people weren't taking any chances.

South Floridians stuffed shopping carts with bottled water, canned food, milk, batteries and emergency supplies — just in case.

``I think it might hit. It's coming so fast,'' Mirla Sotolongo said as she piled plywood in her shopping cart Tuesday at a Home Depot. ``When they issue the warning, everybody is going to run out there and I'd rather avoid that. Better to be safe than sorry.''

``It's good to be prepared because even if the hurricane doesn't hit, we may still get blackouts,'' said Clara Milanes, 64, who bought a battery-powered light and candles at a Wal-Mart.

A hurricane watch could be posted for South Florida late Wednesday, said forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

``It could be powerfully close by Friday,'' said Michael Tichacek, a satellite meteorologist at the hurricane center. ``We easily here in South Florida would be in the hurricane warning.''

By 8 a.m. Wednesday, Debby was about 140 miles southeast of the Bahamas' Grand Turk Island — more than 800 miles southeast of Miami — and charging west at 18 mph.

It was barely strong enough to be called a hurricane, with sustained wind of 75 mph. However, that could increase to 105 mph by its expected Friday approach southeast of Miami, the hurricane center said.

Florida's state emergency operations center in Tallahassee could go to a higher staffing level Wednesday, said spokesman Ian Smith.

``We're like everybody else,'' said Elizabeth Hirst, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jeb Bush. ``In the wait-and-see mode.''