Hurricane Rita Hits Florida Keys, Headed for Gulf

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Alex Chadwick talks to Richard Knab, a hurricane specialist with the National Weather Service in Miami, about Hurricane Rita as it begins to hit the Florida Keys. Chadwick also speaks with Andy Strunk, a hardware store owner in Key West, Fla., who has decided to weather the hurricane, despite evacuation recommendations from the state.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, the latest out of New Orleans as residents of the city are forced to evacuate again.

First, the lead. It's weather again, but this time not the Gulf Coast, or not yet.

Governor JEB BUSH (Republican, Florida): If you've not left the Keys already, stay where you are.

CHADWICK: That's Florida Governor Jeb Bush today speaking to residents in the Florida Keys, where Hurricane Rita is. I'm joined by hurricane specialist Chris Landsea of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Chris, welcome to the program. And the hurricane is in the Keys now.

Dr. CHRIS LANDSEA (National Hurricane Center): Yeah, that's correct. It's been moving toward the west through the Straits of Florida, but the north eye wall and the rain bands have been impacting the Keys all morning here.

CHADWICK: And how much rain are they bringing in there?

Dr. LANDSEA: Well, several inches. It's not a very fast-moving storm. It's only moving toward the west about 15 miles an hour. So that allows, you know, several rain bands over the whole day to impact the area. So they could have 5 or more inches of rain.

CHADWICK: How powerful are the winds, and what are you expecting from the storm?

Dr. LANDSEA: Actually, they just had a upgrade to the storm, that it's been upgraded to a Category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, and that would be with winds about a hundred mile per hour. And it is expected to continue to intensify over the next couple of days.

CHADWICK: And I just wonder, do you know where this hurricane's going? Of course people along the Gulf Coast are very worried.

Dr. LANDSEA: Well, it's going to continue west for the next two days and then on Thursday and Friday it's going to make a turn to the northwest, most likely. It's going to put Texas and Louisiana at most risk at landfall.

CHADWICK: Hurricane specialist Chris Landsea of the National Hurricane Center in Miami tracking Hurricane Rita.

Chris Landsea, thanks for joining us on DAY TO DAY.

Dr. LANDSEA: You're welcome.

CHADWICK: A moment ago, you heard Florida Governor Jeb Bush cautioning residents of Key West and the other Keys to stay where they are and seek shelter if they have not already evacuated. Lumber yard owner Andy Strunk is doing that. He's in Key West, the westernmost island in the lower keys.

Andy Strunk, what's happening where you are now?

Mr. ANDY STRUNK (Lumber Yard Owner): Right now it's overcast, light rain, some winds. At this point, it hasn't gotten too bad, but, you know, over the next few hours, we're going see what we're gonna get.

CHADWICK: I've seen forecasts of more than a foot of rain. That's a lot of rain there.

Mr. STRUNK: Yeah, during Katrina, actually, we had more-than-expected rain, and there was some flooding. And so this time around, I think a lot of people are concerned about the storm surge and the streets being flooded again.

CHADWICK: I think I understand why a lumber yard owner would stay. I mean, you must do very good business when a hurricane's coming on. People want to board things up, right?

Mr. STRUNK: Well, we think of it as a public service. You know, the people in town expect us to be open till the very latest just so they can actually protect their property. And, you know, it's not a good thing for anyone in town, including us. You know, we would much rather just have it as a regular business day. You know, there's a lot of preparation we have to do also. It'd be a lot nicer just to be able to evacuate with everyone else at certain times.

CHADWICK: But you don't. You always stay?

Mr. STRUNK: We always stay as a public service, but also we're in buildings that have been recently built to new building codes. You know, since Andrew back, you know, about 12 years ago, the building codes have gotten much stiffer and all the--basically, the hardware store we're in right now was built about four, five years ago.

CHADWICK: Well, what does it look like? No windows or what? How are you going to ride this out?

Mr. STRUNK: Actually, we have a backup generator. We have a few windows. In fact, we're on the generator right now. The power went out here. We do have a couple of windows with roll-down shutters. So at this point, I can still see outside, but probably here in a couple of hours, once I see the winds start to pick up, we're going to start rolling them down.

CHADWICK: People in the Keys, they often stay through these hurricanes, but I wonder if what happened with Hurricane Katrina has changed some people's minds.

Mr. STRUNK: I would imagine. A lot of people changed their mind after Andrew and that was a long time ago. And I think you see different residents come in and everyone gets a wake-up call now and then. There was a direct hit about 30 miles north of here that did some damage around about a 15-mile stretch. But as far as Key West goes, Key West actually hasn't had a direct hit in a long time so, you know, people get complacent.

CHADWICK: Lumber yard owner Andy Strunk sticking it out in Key West, Florida. Andy, good luck.

Mr. STRUNK: Thank you.

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