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Panhandle Braces for Tropical Storm Arlene

Hurricane Ivan Victims Making Plans As Tropical Storm Arlene Heads for Florida Panhandle

Don Sheldon makes his daily walk along the beach near Hollywood, Fla., as Tropical Storm Arlene strenghtens Friday, June 10, 2005. Sheldon said he has not seen such beach conditions since last year's hurricane season. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)

By BILL KACZOR Associated Press Writer

The Associated PressThe Associated Press

PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. Jun 11, 2005 — Heavy rain drenched the Florida Panhandle early Saturday and heavy surf pounded beaches as Tropical Storm Arlene plodded toward the Gulf Coast, chasing a few weather-weary residents into shelters.

The storm had wind blowing at a sustained 70 mph, and the National Hurricane Center posted a hurricane warning along 125 miles of coast from Pascagoula, Miss., to Destin in the western Florida Panhandle.

Meteorologists said there was a slight chance Arlene could build into a Category 1 hurricane by landfall, with its heaviest wind and rain north of the storm's center. The center of the storm was expected to hit the northern Gulf Coast during the mid to late afternoon, the hurricane center said.

"We anticipate that Arlene will probably stay at a very strong tropical storm this afternoon," Ben Nelson, Florida's state meteorologist, said Saturday afternoon. "Those warnings are up just in case."

Bob Garcia checked into a Red Cross shelter at Gulf Shores, Ala., with his son, Tommy.

Garcia said they live in a mobile home in Sommerdale, Ala., and there was "no sense in taking chances" with the possibility of tornados developing as the storm plowed ashore. He was one of only 13 people in the shelter Saturday morning.

One death had been blamed on the storm a Russian exchange student died after she was pulled from the rolling waves off Miami Beach Friday.

The worst fears were in the Florida Panhandle, still reeling from Hurricane Ivan nine months ago. Piles of debris, gutted homes and storm-damaged roofs covered by plastic blue tarps are vivid reminders of Ivan's wrath.

"I was pretty shocked to see how bad it still was," said tourist Roddy Rogers, 46, of Springfield, Mo. "I've been in third-world countries and it looks kind of like that in some places."

Officials urged thousands of people in low-lying areas of three Panhandle counties to evacuate, and people flocked to hardware stores to buy generators, flashlights and other hurricane supplies. At the Islander Package and Lounge in Pensacola Beach, a sign read "Here we go again."