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Saturday, September 26, 1998 Published at 05:53 GMT 06:53 UK

World: Americas

Georges set to strengthen

Twenty feet-high waves crashed onto the streets of Key West

The strongest hurricane to have hit the United States for more than five years in heading north-west over the Gulf of Mexico.

Malcolm Brabant reports from Miami
Thousands fled on Friday as winds of more than 100 miles per hour (160km/h) and torrential rain battered a chain of islands off the coast of Florida.

Brian Maher from National Hurricane Center in Miami: "There is definately a possibility of some intensification"
The hurricane uprooted trees, damaged roofs and knocked out power, but there were no reported casualties unlike the devastation wreaked in the Caribbean, where more than 300 people are now known to have been killed.

[ image: Expected to strengthen over Gulf of Mexico]
Expected to strengthen over Gulf of Mexico
However, forecasters fear the winds could be stronger still when Georges hits the mainland again - most likely on Sunday near Mobile, Alabama.

Police have started issuing evacuation orders further up the Florida Gulf, and a hurricane watch has begun in the states of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Florida 'spared brunt'

ABC's Dean Stayley: "There is relief here"
President Bill Clinton declared a state of emergency in Florida and authorised federal assistance while the storm was still blowing across the state.

[ image: Even the space shuttle was moved to safety]
Even the space shuttle was moved to safety
"We are as ready as we can be, and we pray that the human and material cost will be limited," he said.

Although more than 750,000 people were told to leave their homes, the damage was less than expected.

Thousands of people also ignored the mandatory evacuation orders, despite the strong winds and waves of more than 20 feet.

Hundreds missing

Across the Caribbean, rescue workers pulled bodies from mud and rubble, while survivors struggled to find food and clean water.

[ image: Hundreds of thousands are homeless]
Hundreds of thousands are homeless
The death toll topped 300, with at least 210 dead in the Dominican Republic, 87 in Haiti, four in Cuba, three in Puerto Rico, three in St. Kitts and two in Antigua.

Hundreds more are missing, and hundreds of thousands have lost their homes.

In the Dominican Republic and Haiti there is a serious risk of disease breaking out.

Some people have been forced to drink water from muddy rivers that could still contain the corpses of hurricane victims.

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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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