Ernesto Hits Cuba, Aims at Florida Coast
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick. First, the hurricane threat to Florida. Tropical Storm Ernesto, or Hurricane Ernesto, depending on what happens in the next day. Florida's governor has already declared a state of emergency. We'll talk with a Floridian in a moment.
First, to meteorologist Dennis Feltgen at the National Weather Service headquarters outside Washington, D.C. Dennis, what is the status of the storm midday Monday?
Mr. DENNIS FELTGEN (National Weather Service): As of midday Monday the storm was about 35 miles west-northwest of Guantanamo in southeastern Cuba. It's over mountainous terrain, and that has taken a toll on the storm. Maximum sustained winds have decreased to near 40 miles per hour with higher gusts. Some additional weakening is likely as Ernesto moves over land today, but re-strengthening is expected once that center moves over the warmer waters to the north of Cuba.
CHADWICK: So was this ever a hurricane and is it going to be a hurricane again?
Mr. FELTGEN: It was a hurricane for about 10 hours during the day on Sunday. Then it began interacting with the mountainous terrain of Hispaniola and Cuba. And as a result the storm's circulation was disrupted and the winds began to weaken.
CHADWICK: And where will it hit, do you think?
Mr. FELTGEN: That's the $10,000 question right now. We do expect it to impact south Florida. Hurricane watches are now in effect for Florida's east coast, from New Smyrna Beach southward, all the way through the Florida Keys and up Florida's west coast to the mouth of the Chokoloskee River. And hurricane warnings may be required for a portion of this area later today.
CHADWICK: I'll bet there's people with more than $10,000 bet on this already. But anyway, Dennis Feltgen of the National Weather Service, thank you.
Mr. FELTGEN: You're welcome.
CHADWICK: And now to the Florida Keys, Islamorada, where Kevin O'Hara is watching the progress of the storm. And not planning on going anywhere, Kevin?
Mr. KEVIN O'HARA (Resident, Florida Keys): Not planning on going anywhere. We're just setting our boats up for it and we're going to just ride it out.
CHADWICK: Well, what do you do down there?
Mr. O'HARA: Well, we have two 50-foot sport fishing boats that we put them in the middle of the canals and tie them up so they can't move. Some of the guys put them in the mangroves where if they get pushed up they're in the trees where they stay safe. And the little boats we put on trailers and pull out. And right now we're just playing shuffle with all the boats.
CHADWICK: So you've got two 50-foot fishing boats. With all of the terrible devastation from hurricanes last year, aren't you changing your thinking a little bit? I mean I know Floridians get very blasé about hurricanes, but these truly can be life-altering events.
Mr. O'HARA: Well, we always move the boats - the big boats - and the Keys tend to now take it that hard. We haven't got hit that hard and, you know, this one doesn't look like it's going to be bad at all, because we're pretty protected by - like it slows down in Cuba or it hits the Bahamian Islands and we tend to get lucky down here.
CHADWICK: You know, the governor has ordered this evacuation for tourists or visitors, people have to get out. RVs have to get out, trailers that people are towing have to get out. Do you see an evacuation? Do you see people headed out?
Mr. O'HARA: Actually, the roads aren't too busy. There's a little bit of traffic going north, but it's really not bad. I mean, most of the tourists got out yesterday because they ordered them out, and right now it's pretty quiet down here.
CHADWICK: I spoke to Governor Blanco of Louisiana last week about sort of the eve of the first anniversary of Katrina, and she said the one thing that did work well was that in fact a lot of people did leave last year. They did evacuate before the storm hit. Things could have been much worse. I wonder if you feel any kind of compunction or maybe responsibility to others to just get out because, well, that way you wouldn't have to be rescued.
Mr. O'HARA: Well, you know, down here last year in the Keys most people didn't leave. I mean, nothing really hit down here and it just - where do you go? They don't know which side it's going to go on. So you end up being on the road not knowing where to go. And if you go up towards - up on the east coast it could go that way. If you go west it could that way. So you end up being more in the way. Even on the stronger ones, we wait towards the end to see which direction so we have an idea of where to go here. Because we're at the tip, you have to decide which way you're going. Either you're going up the east coast or you're going up the west coast.
CHADWICK: So you're not going anywhere. What are you going to do today and tomorrow?
Mr. O'HARA: Today, actually, after we get all our boats taken care of we're taking the little boats out and going diving because it's pretty calm out there right now.
CHADWICK: Kevin O'Hara in Islamorada, Florida. Kevin, best of luck to you.
Mr. O'HARA: Thank you so much.
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