WITH a menacing giant storm called Hugo stalking the Eastern Seaboard, residents of several states have begun bracing for its onslaught. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami said Hugo was virtually sure to strike the United States coast, probably early Friday. The area most likely to be affected is between central or northern Florida and Cape Hatteras, N.C., according to computer-generated predictions.
``We may not know enough to be precise,'' NHC director Robert Sheets told reporters Sept. 19. ``We may have to overwarn. But it seems sure to hit land, and it's not often that we can say that.''
Hugo has already cut a deadly swath of destruction through the Caribbean, claiming at least 16 lives, injuring scores more, and leaving up to 50,000 persons homeless.
In hard-hit Puerto Rico, Gov. Rafael Hern'andez Col'on toured the ravaged island and estimated damage from Hugo at $40 million.
In southern Florida, concern over Hugo began to soar as early as Tuesday morning, when residents awoke to find a color map on the front page of the Miami Herald in which an ominous red arrow drawn from Hugo - then some 900 miles away - seemed to be aimed directly at Miami. ``Hugo's Most Likely Path'' read the headline over the illustration.
For thousands of south Floridians, hurricane fever is in the air.
``Masking tape, batteries, lanterns, kerosene lamps - it's just crazy,'' sighed Debbie Quintas, whose family runs a hardware store. ``Usually, people wait until the last minute. But I think people are seeing what happened in Puerto Rico, and they see that Hugo is on the same path as David [in 1979]. We are going to be very, very busy.''
Grocery stores, too, were feeling the crush of shoppers. ``Sales of canned goods, water, batteries, and candles are very brisk,'' said Ken Crane, manager of a Publix store in North Miami Beach. ``But we were prepared; we ordered extra.''
While most south Floridians have never experienced the effects of a hurricane, they are aware that historically the area is the most vulnerable to tropical storms. The last hurricane to strike hard at the Miami area was Betsy in 1965.
But many residents do have some recollection of hurricane David, which in 1979 took a path eerily similar to that of Hugo before veering away from Miami and barreling into central Florida. Days before David had killed more than 1,000.