Just below official hurricane status, Tropical Storm Rita is threatening the Florida Keys with a possible 7-foot storm surge.
Thousands of residents fled the Keys before Rita. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say it would probably develop into a Category One hurricane.
The storm threatens to dump up to 15 inches of rain on some parts of the low-lying island chain with winds over 70 miles-an-hour and the possible storm surge of between four and seven feet.
At 8 a-m, Rita had top sustained winds of about 70 miles-an-hour and was located about 100 miles east-southeast of Key West, moving to the west-northwest at about 15 miles-an-hour. Forecasters expect Rita would reach hurricane strength, or 74 mile-an-hour winds later in the day. It could also gain more strength when it enters the Gulf of Mexico.
The earliest bands of wind and rain are being felt to the north of the Keys in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. More than 13-thousand customers are already without power and most schools and government offices are closed for the day.
On the Net:
National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov