Hurricane Warnings Issued as Storm Nears Florida Coast

<i> From Times Wire Services</i>

Tropical Storm Alberto, the first of the hurricane season, bore down on the coast of northern Florida on Saturday, packing growing winds of 60 m.p.h. and heading for an area filled with Fourth of July vacationers.

The storm’s sustained winds grew from 45 to 50 m.p.h. during the day. By the time Alberto reaches land, winds could increase to near hurricane force, National Hurricane Center specialist Lixion Avila said. A tropical storm becomes a hurricane if its maximum sustained winds top 74 m.p.h.

Hurricane warnings were issued for areas from Gulfport, Miss., to Cedar Key, Fla.

“Most of the Florida Panhandle will feel this storm,” said Bob Sheets, director of the hurricane center.


Coastal residents began to board up windows and get ready to flee the area. Long lines formed at gas stations, and stores were doing a brisk business in bottled water and emergency equipment.

Landfall was expected about noon today, probably in northwestern Florida, but perhaps in Alabama or even eastern Mississippi, Avila said.

Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles urged Gulf Coast residents to monitor news broadcasts about the storm’s progress and prepare for the worst.

The storm developed Thursday off Cuba, where it dumped 10 inches of rain.