Tropical Storm Rita brews in the South

By Sara Adams

The 80,000 residents of Monroe County, Fla. were ordered to evacuate homes Monday morning due to fast-approaching Tropical Storm Rita, which has the potential to become a hurricane.

Miami-Dade County also is under warning as hurricane-force winds are expected to hit the area sometime this morning.

Tourists were told to evacuate the area Sunday evening and residents of the area were advised to leave Monday morning, though Key West mayor Jimmy Weekley said he thinks residents may not leave.

“Conch is a mussel and it’s a very tough mussel,” Weekley said. “So, a lot of the old Conchs here, as Key Westers are known, will not evacuate at all. They will stay and ride the storm out for various reasons.”

The storm is headed toward areas south of Miami and is projected to hit the Keys around 10 p.m. tonight. The storm has the potential to become a Category 1 hurricane if winds, currently 70 mph, reach 74 to 95 mph.

Depending on the strength of the storm, it has the potential to destroy beaches, buildings and houses in the Florida Keys area, said NIU meteorologist Gilbert Sebenste.

A hurricane warning was in effect Monday for the Bahaman islands Exumas and Andros and southern Florida cities Golden Beach, Florida City and East Cape Sable, as well as the keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas.

“The worst danger is the hurricane hitting Louisiana or the southeastern coast of Texas,” Sebenste said. “It looks like there’s a high probability that at least one of those areas will get hit. It could be catastrophic, given the warm temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico.”

If the hurricane hits one of these areas, it could affect oil and gas pipelines and push gasoline prices considerably higher over the next week or so, Sebenste said.

At this time, the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina do not seem to be in immediate danger of Tropical Storm Rita.

“There is still a possibility that it could get close to New Orleans, but at this time we don’t think it will,” Sebenste said.