Hurricane Andrew Pounds South Florida

Hurricane Andrew smashed ashore south of this sprawling city before dawn yesterday, bringing walls of water and the howl of winds reaching 160-m.p.h.-plus. At least two people were killed.

In Washington, President Bush declared Florida a disaster area, paving the way for federal emergency aid. At 8 a.m., the hurricane had left Florida and was in the Gulf of Mexico, headed somewhere between Mobile, Ala., and Port Arthur, Texas, the National Hurricane Center said. That area includes New Orleans.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Florida had fled before the mighty hurricane, streaming inland and north in a bumper-to-bumper exodus. But many thousands of others chose to ride out one of the fiercest storms to hit the United States in decades. The National Hurricane Center in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables lost its radar and radio systems even before Andrew reached shore, but forecasters continued to receive satellite images via phone lines.

The eye passed across Homestead, about 25 miles southwest of Miami. Heavy rain fell, sustained winds blew at 140 m.p.h. and at least 400,000 people were without power - and could be for weeks or months, authorities said.

Gov. Lawton Chiles said two deaths were reported. But he said it appeared that overall damage and casualties would be "not as bad as it could have been."

Governor Chiles said storm surges on the East Coast reached 12 feet, instead of the 20 feet that had been feared.

Miami Police Sgt. Bill Lang said there were "one or two instances" of looting at damaged businesses."Officers are out to make sure that no rioting or looting takes place," said Sergeant Lang.

Blue sparks flew around the city as transformers blew up and power lines fell.

"The sky is an amazing color of aqua or turquoise blue," said an electrician who goes by one name, Kapua, and lives in suburban Coconut Grove. "Every time it lightens, it's just beautiful."

Hurricane-force winds began battering Miami Beach about 2:30 a.m. "Things are getting a little rough, a little scary," said Chris Fuller, a resident of Miami Beach. "We kind of think we maybe should have left the island."

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