PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Forecasters issued a hurricane warning for part of the northern Gulf Coast, including areas still recovering from last year’s Ivan, as Tropical Storm Arlene moved toward a strike today.

The warning stretched from Pascagoula, Miss., to Destin in the central Florida Panhandle.

In an advisory issued at 11 p.m. EDT, forecasters said Arlene could build into a Category 1 storm by landfall, with its heavy rains and winds arriving much earlier. The storm was 245 miles south-southeast of Pensacola and moving northwest at 16 mph, slightly more westward and a bit slower than before.

A hurricane warning is issued when hurricane conditions, winds of 74 mph or more, are expected within 24 hours. Arlene had sustained winds of 70 mph.

Officials urged residents in low-lying areas of three Florida Panhandle counties to evacuate in advance of the storm, and many residents seemed to be taking no chances. Hardware stores said generators, flashlights and other hurricane supplies were in high demand.

Eight hurricane shelters were being opened in the Panhandle.

Escambia County’s voluntary evacuations cover up to 50,000 people. Santa Rosa and Walton County also asked for similar evacuations but had no estimates of how many people they covered. The evacuation requests include mobile homes, manufactured housing and travel trailers such as those provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Ivan’s victims who are waiting for their homes to be repaired or rebuilt.

While some residents said they planned to get out ahead of Arlene, David Johanson wasn’t one of them. The 72-year-old retired engineer living in a FEMA trailer parked in front of his damaged home said he wasn’t worried.

“Any storm is a danger, but I think it’s being overblown just a little bit,” Johanson said, but he quickly added “People have a right to be a little concerned.”

Arlenen was also drenching western Cuba and causing heavy rain and gusty winds over much of Florida.

A Russian exchange student died after being pulled from rolling waves off Miami Beach early Friday, officials said. In the Panhandle, the Coast Guard said one of its helicopters rescued the five crewmembers of the fishing trawler Happy Hour, which was taking on water in 12-foot seas 21 miles southwest of Cape San Blas.

“It’s difficult to tell if this is going to turn into a hurricane, but it’s certainly going to bring a lot of rain to places that have already had a lot of rain,” said Gov. Jeb Bush, who declared a state of emergency.

Coastal areas could be hit by storm surges of up to 4 feet, topped with battering waves, said forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Flooding was possible because the storm could drop up to 12 inches of rain along the eastern Gulf Coast, meteorologists said.

“Rainfall is the primary threat from this storm,” state meteorologist Ben Nelson said.

Arlene is also expected to spread 4 to 8 inches of rain east of the forecast track, across the Southeast, the Appalachians, the Tennessee Valley and the Ohio Valley after it moves ashore, said forecaster Stacy Stewart.

Meteorologists warned coastal residents that flooding patterns could be different now because dunes were changed around by Ivan.

The Best Western Resort in Pensacola Beach secured outside furniture, grills and other items that could blow away and cause more damage, spokeswoman Marta Ray said. She was worried, however, about piles of debris, some 10 or 15 feet high, and gutted buildings that could be torn apart and scattered by the storm.

“We’re just going to duck,” Ray said. “All we can do is control the things we can.”

Sales of hurricane supplies were also boosted because they were tax-free under a state program to encourage early preparation for storms. The “tax holiday” ends Sunday.

“We’re out of a lot of things,” said Shelly Blevins, administrative manager at a Lowe’s store in Pensacola.

Tropical storm force winds extended up to 160 miles from the center, mainly to the north and east.

A tropical storm warning was discontined for the Dry Tortugas, islands west of Key West.

The hurricane season began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

Last year, the first storm of the season, Alex, didn’t form until Aug. 1. Two weeks later, Florida was hit by the first of four hurricanes in the space of a few weeks. They caused about 130 deaths in the U.S. and $22 billion in insured wind damage.


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