South Florida preps for Noel


Ken Quinn, of Treasure Coast Carpentry and Excavating, salvages bricks from the driveway of Ted and Anne Brown as strong winds and high surf from Tropical Storm Noel push against the shoreline on South Hutchinson Island on Wednesday. Rough surf warnings were in effect for much of South Florida.

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

SOUTH PALM BEACH - A tropical storm watch was issued Wednesday afternoon by the National Hurricane Center for portions of southeast Florida already being buffeted by strong winds and high surf.

The agency warned gusty winds swirling between Noel and a high-pressure system over the East Coast would continue hitting Florida through Thursday as Noel was expected to skirt the state's coast.

But in Gainesville, today should be another blustery but relatively dry day, as forecasters are predicting a 20 percent chance of rain. High temperatures will reach about 80 degrees, and by Friday, the skies should be clear and sunny with highs in the upper 70s just in time for Homecoming weekend.

At 8 p.m. Wednesday, Noel's center was about 230 miles south-southeast of Miami. The storm was nearly stationary, but was expected to eventually turn north away from Florida and speed over the Bahamas. It had top sustained winds near 60 mph, with stronger gusts, up from 40 mph earlier in the day, forecasters said.

The tropical storm watch was issued for about a 140-mile stretch of southeast Florida from just north of the Keys to Jupiter.

Meanwhile, wind and waves washed out beaches from the Georgia border to Miami and threatened a handful of coastal structures, but damage so far was minimal.

At least one home in St. Johns County, where officials issued an emergency declaration, was in danger of falling into the ocean.

The city of Fernandina Beach near the Georgia border declared a local emergency, Flagler Beach could see problems with overwashing of the A1A coastal highway and several properties were threatened in Brevard County, state officials said.

Residents of a waterfront condominium in South Palm Beach were evacuated Tuesday after pounding surf destroyed a retaining wall that had been damaged earlier this month in another storm. Waves lashed at dunes Wednesday as workers laid cement blocks along the building's edge to protect it from further erosion.

Michael Mead, 61, lives at the condo complex and watched as the sea wall crumbled in the middle of the night.

"It was crackling,'' Mead said. "Then I turned around for a second and boom! It just went down.''

Damage was expected to be minimal in Broward County, where officials have spent more than $80 million over the past 25 years restoring beaches, said Stephen Higgins, the county's beach erosion administrator.

"We don't expect any structural damage or catastrophic problems,'' Higgins said. "It's not that bad. I would expect some erosion from this, some loss of sand, but nothing disastrous.''

Palm Beach County was seeing major erosion problems in just a few "hot spots'' along a combined five miles of coastline, said Leanne Welch, with the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management.

"Overall, I think we're doing OK,'' Welch said of the county's 46-mile coastline.

Beaches in Jupiter were taking a beating mostly because turtle nesting season had delayed the start of a full-scale dune restoration project there, Welch said.

Several structures at Jupiter Beach Park were threatened but "so far, so good,'' she added.

In May, the county added about 70,000 cubic yards of sand along beaches on Singer Island, much of which washed away during storms a few weeks ago, Welch said.

"That was pretty devastating to us,'' she said. "Everything we put out is eroded and this is making it worse.''

Miami-Dade County was also being spared the brunt of the storm for now, but officials said it was too soon to assess any damage.

"At this point, we haven't received any news of major impacts along the 13-mile stretch of our beaches, but we're monitoring it,'' said Luis Espinoza, a spokesman for the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management.

Beach erosion is always a problem up and down Florida's 1,350-mile coastline, more than a quarter of which is considered critically eroded.

About $80 million is spent annually restoring Florida's beaches, but it's a constant challenge as storms sweep away sand and coastal development swallows barrier islands.

"There are a few hot spots now,'' said Sarah Williams, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. "But we just can't anticipate what the effects are going to be once the system moves through. We've only received reports of small problems right now. It's not going to be like a Hurricane Charley.''

As a precaution, the South Florida Water Management District lowered canals in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties in anticipation of possible flooding.

"It doesn't look like it's going to be a real serious flooding situation for us,'' said district spokesman Randy Smith.

Alice Wallace of The Sun contributed to this report.

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