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Gulf gets first named storm; Fla. bracing for landfall

GULF OF MEXICO — The first tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, Andrea, formed yesterday over the Gulf of Mexico and was expected to bring wet weather to parts of Florida’s west coast over the next few days.

Forecasters issued a tropical storm warning for a swath of Florida’s west coast starting at Boca Grande, an island to the northwest of Fort Myers, and ending in the Big Bend area of the state.

In Alabama, authorities said that 13 people had to be rescued from rough surf kicked up by the storm yesterday at beaches in two coastal towns. Most of those rescued didn’t require medical treatment.

Tropical Storm Andrea had maximum sustained winds near 45 mph as of 2 a.m. today, and winds were forecast to move northward. It was located about 240 miles southwest of Tampa. A tropical storm watch has been issued for most of northeast Florida and north to Surf City, N.C.

Andrea was moving to the north at about 10 mph and forecasters expected the storm to continue moving northeast at a faster speed overnight and today.

The center of Andrea was expected to reach the Big Bend area of Florida’s coast this afternoon, then move across southeastern Georgia, bypassing Atlanta, and over southeastern South Carolina and eastern North Carolina. It was expected to bring foul weather to those parts of Georgia and the Carolinas by tomorrow. Forecasters say Andrea could bring three to six inches of rain to the Florida Panhandle and southeastern Georgia, with isolated areas seeing as much as eight inches.

In Florida, Gulf Islands National Seashore closed its campgrounds and the road that runs through the popular beach-front park yesterday. The national seashore abuts Pensacola Beach and the park road frequently floods during heavy rains. On Pensacola Beach, condominium associations asked people to remove furniture on high balconies because of the expected high winds and beach lifeguards warned tourists of possible high surf.

A forecast map predicts the storm will continue along the East Coast through the weekend before heading out to sea again, though a storm’s track is often hard to predict days in advance.

A National Hurricane Center advisory also says coastal areas north of Tampa could also see storm surge of several feet.

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