Florida keeps eye on Hurricane Ophelia

Ophelia regained hurricane strength on a course expected to swing toward the Atlantic Coast, and forecasters urged residents from northern Florida to the Carolinas to keep close watch on its path over the next few days.

The category-one storm had sustained winds of 121kph on Friday night. It was moving north-east at near 14kph and was expected to continue on that track through Saturday.

Forecasters said Ophelia has been hard to predict. It could go out to sea, but it may also head anywhere from north Florida to North Carolina.

“Most of our best indicators suggest that it will move back to the west and approach the south-east United States coast.
However, it is much to soon to know if landfall along the south-east coast will occur,” said Jamie Rhome, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Centre.

Along the coast, many were anticipating the storm.

George Curovic, the general manager of Manny’s, said his restaurant drew big crowds through last year’s season because it was one of few in the Flagler Beach area with power. This time is different, he said.

“Now they’re getting away. I think they’ve seen too much damage, too much death,” Curovic said. “All it takes is one tidal wave to wipe this place out.”

Florida has been hit by two hurricanes this year and six in the past 13 months. Many residents have already stocked up on batteries, water and non-perishable food.

“These people around here are veterans. They are already prepared,” said Rick Storm, a clerk at a Wal-Mart Supercentre in Merritt Island. “They are fully stocked and ready to go.”

At 3am GMT, Ophelia was centred about 410km east-northeast of Daytona Beach and about 386km south-east of Charleston, South Carolina.

Even as it lingered offshore, Ophelia sent waves crashing on to beaches and stirred up strong wind gusts. Officials shut down a stretch of coastal road in Flagler County so transportation workers could shore it up with sand and boulders. Officials at Nasa were also keeping an eye on Ophelia.

Two other tropical storms, Nate and Maria, posed no threat to land as they weakened moving into cooler waters of the north Atlantic.

The Atlantic hurricane season began on June 1 and ends on November 30.

Peak storm activity typically occurs from the end of August through mid-September.—Sapa-AP

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