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Friday, September 25, 1998 Published at 20:07 GMT 21:07 UK

World: Americas

British tourists brace for hurricane

Flamingos from Miami Zoo seek shelter in the men's loo

Thousands of British holidaymakers in Florida are bracing themselves for the onslaught of Hurricane Georges, which has claimed nearly 200 lives on its rampage across the Caribbean.

Tourist Peter Bright tells the BBC: ''It's too late to worry.''
Georges, which could reach speeds of up to 200kph by Sunday, will hit the south of the state on Friday and looks set to cause severe damage and flooding.

A state of emergency has been declared in central and southern Florida.

But UK holiday companies are still chartering passengers to Miami, despite winds reaching 145kph.

[ image: Wind speeds could reach 200kph]
Wind speeds could reach 200kph
Tour operators Thomson and Airtours are continuing flights, but warned holidaymakers to stay away from the brunt of the storm in the south.

Virgin Atlantic says flights will continue, but it is monitoring the situation.

But British Airways has cancelled its flights, leaving 800 BA passengers stranded in Miami.

A spokesman said they would be flown home on other airlines or taken to "secure" safety areas if the storm strikes.

Passengers in England will be given alternative destinations or refunds.

Holidaymaker Peter Bright from Worcestershire said he arrived in Miami to find his hotel boarded up and no other accommodation.

''It was only when we got to Miami Beach that we realised we were in a ghost town.....but it's too late to worry,'' he added.

One million people have been urged to leave their homes from Art Deco Miami Beach to the Tampa Bay area in the west.

Florida Keys' 80,000 residents were given a mandatory evacuation order on Wednesday.

Authorities estimate up to half are opting to stay behind and weather it out with hurricane parties.

Trail of death and destruction

But Jerry Jarrell, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, urged stragglers in the Keys to get out fast.

"This storm looks like it's all set to explosively intensify.

Louis Fernandez: European tourists do not realise what a hurricane can do
"We're extremely concerned that the land areas will be inundated with water and we'll lose a lot of folks down there."

Louis Fernandez of Dade County Fire and Rescue Department said Miami had learnt its lessons from Hurricane Andrew, the devastating storm of 1992.

He said most tourists would be able to stay in their hotels which were now built with tougher glass.

Georges is hurtling towards Florida after leaving a trail of death and destruction in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

[ image: A Haitian girl weeps after hearing of her teacher's death]
A Haitian girl weeps after hearing of her teacher's death
Hundreds of UK holidaymakers caught up in the Caribbean storms began arriving back in Britain on Friday.

They told how they were barricaded into their hotel rooms in the Dominican Republic waiting to be hammered by 150mph winds.

The hurricane turned south before it could cause chaos on the north coast - a favourite with British holidaymakers.

But tourists told how their apartments were boarded up and stripped of moveable objects. Phone lines and electricity supplies failed.

Alcohol was also banned as guests were warned to brace themselves.

Hurricane wrecks honeymoon

Honeymooners Toni and Dean Hawkins, from Manchester, said they spent three days trapped in their hotel room.

Mr Hawkins said: "The last days were terrible, we were put on hurricane alert on Sunday and with each burst of wind we just though `God, this is it'.

"There was no television, no hot water and we had to take down mirrors and lightbulbs in case they smashed.If you looked outside, you could see everything moving.''

At least 125 people have been confirmed dead, but Red Cross staff claim another 76 have been killed, with a further 100,000 left homeless.

Heavy flooding has damaged 70% of bridges and destroyed 90% of banana and other plantations.

The Foreign Office has an emergency telephone number for hurricane information - 0171 839 1010.

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