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Friday, September 25, 1998 Published at 18:53 GMT 19:53 UK

World: Americas

Hurricane Georges hits Key West

Strong waves have been crashing onto the streets of Key West

Philippa Thomas: "The waves have reached 20 feet"
Strong winds and rain have been lashing the Florida Keys and Miami, as Hurricane Georges made landfall in the US tourist island of Key West.

More than 750,000 people have been told to leave their homes in southern Florida, which is now feeling the full force of the hurricane.

Islands residents believe the worst of the storm is yet to come. Tens of thousands left before the hurricane hit but many chose to stay.

On its way through the Carribean Georges killed more than 200 people over five days. Power has been cut to the lower keys, including Key West, but there have not yet been any reports of casualties.

Cynthia Edwards from Key West: "We are told that the winds on the other side will be far more powerful"
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Centre warned that the most dangerous part of Georges would make a direct hit on the middle to lower islands of the Florida Keys chain. Residents as far north as Fort Lauderdale have been advised to evacuate mobile homes and low-lying areas.

A hurricane warning was posted for the Keys and the Gulf Coast north to Longboat Key, about 40 miles (64 kilometres) south of Tampa.

[ image: Georges is expected to strengthen further over the Gulf of Mexico]
Georges is expected to strengthen further over the Gulf of Mexico
The hurricane's centre hit Key West at 11:45am local time (1545 GMT), with sustained winds of 160 kmh (100 mph) and gusts as high as185 kmh (115 mph). It has picked up speed in the warm waters of the Florida Straits.

The storm is expected to strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico and head towards the northern gulf coast. A hurricane watch was posted from St. Marks in the Florida Panhandle west to Morgan City, Louisiana.

Hundreds missing

Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Centre: Hurricane not as strong as Andrew in 1992
The number of people known to have been killed by the hurricane rose dramatically with the discovery of 80 bodies in a river in the Dominican Republic. Hundreds more are missing.

In southern Florida, a state of emergency has been declared where nearly five million people have been put on alert for hurricane conditions.

"We are as ready as we can be, and we pray that the human and material cost will be limited," President Bill Clinton said.

[ image: At Kennedy Space Centre, the space shuttle Discovery was moved to safety ahead of the hurricane]
At Kennedy Space Centre, the space shuttle Discovery was moved to safety ahead of the hurricane
At Florida's Kennedy Space Centre, the space shuttle Discovery was moved to the safety of the vehicle assembly building, as a precaution against the approaching hurricane.

Tourists were ordered to leave the Florida Keys on Tuesday, and 80,000 residents were told to evacuate the lower Keys on Wednesday.

The island chain is not considered safe during severe hurricanes because a strong tidal surge would put much of the low-lying islands under water.

Four Florida counties - Monroe, Dade, Broward and Collier - posted hurricane warnings on Thursday. Another five further north may be at risk within 36 hours.

Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas called for the evacuation of all mobile homes in the county and barrier islands, and inland low-lying areas that are prone to flooding.

Broward County also advised mobile home residents to evacuate.

After causing widespread destruction in the Caribbean islands, the storm lost some strength after battering Hispaniola, the mountainous island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

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Internet Links

American Red Cross: Are You Ready for a Hurricane?

National Hurricane Centre: Hurricane Georges updates


University of Wisconsin-Madison: Hurricane Georges

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