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Katrina hits Florida: 3 dead; 1 million in dark

Forecasters: Slow-moving hurricane could drop 15 inches of rain

Katrina is seen over southern Florida in this satellite image taken Thursday at 9:15 p.m. ET.




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HOLLYWOOD, Florida (CNN) -- Hurricane Katrina lumbered ashore Thursday evening with punishing winds and torrential rain in densely populated southeast Florida, leaving at least two people dead and more than 1 million without electricity.

A man in Fort Lauderdale was killed when a large ficus tree fell onto his car on a street near downtown, bringing power lines down with it, police spokesman Bill Schultz said.

Another man in Plantation died when he was hit by a tree after going outside to inspect damage from a branch that fell on his mobile home, Plantation Police Sgt. Al Butler said.

A third man died in Cooper City when the car he was driving struck a tree as he was attempting to avoid a downed tree on a road, said Broward County Sheriff's Office spokesman Hugh Graf.

An overpass under construction over Florida Highway 836 west of Miami also collapsed during the storm. There were no immediate reports of injuries, according to Miami-Dade Metro Police.

At 11 p.m. ET, despite being over land for more than four hours, Katrina's maximum sustained winds were still being clocked at 75 mph, just 5 mph weaker than when the storm came ashore between Hallandale Beach and North Miami Beach at 6:30 p.m.

Instead of going across the Florida peninsula as projected, Katrina took a slight jog to the southwest after making landfall, pushing the brunt of the storm into Miami-Dade County.

At 11 p.m., the center of the hurricane was 35 miles southwest of Miami and 20 miles northwest of Homestead.

Thursday night, Florida Power and Light reported that 525,000 customers in Miami-Dade County were without power, along with 477,000 in Broward County and 76,000 in Palm Beach County.

"We're well over a million, and it doesn't look like it's going to ease up," said utility spokesman Bill Swank. The company was bringing in more than 4,100 electrical workers from other areas to help restore power.

The storm was classified as a minimal, Category 1 hurricane, making serious wind damage unlikely. However, flooding was a major concern from the slow-moving storm. (Intensity scale)

Radar showed Katrina, which was moving at a mere 6 mph, was dumping 1 to 2 inches of rain an hour.

Six to 10 inches of rain were likely along its path, with up to 15 inches possible in some isolated areas, forecasters said.

'Take this seriously'

Throughout Thursday, officials warned the more than 5 million people living in southeast Florida not be be lulled into a false sense of security by the storm's relatively modest winds.

At a news conference, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose state was battered by four powerful hurricanes last year, made the point that any hurricane is dangerous, regardless of its category.

"Hurricanes are hurricanes, and they bring with them the possibility of really severe flooding and wind damage, so it's important to take this seriously," Bush said.

People were being told to take cover in their homes. Residents of low-lying areas, barrier islands and those living in mobile homes were urged to evacuate, though evacuations remained mostly voluntarily.

The only mandatory evacuation was for barrier islands and low-lying areas in southern Palm Beach County, around Boca Raton.

Interstate 95, the main north-south freeway along the east coast, was jammed with traffic Thursday afternoon, as people left work early to get home before the storm hit.

In Hollywood, Alberto Soddu was buying plywood to cover some of his windows that aren't protected by shutters.

"After the [Hurricane] Andrew experience, I am taking it seriously," he told CNN.

Hurricane Andrew, Category 5 storm, slammed into south Florida on August 24, 1992, causing $30 billion in damage. Forty deaths were attributed to the storm.

Travel disrupted

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shut down Thursday evening. While airports in West Palm Beach and Miami did not officially close, airlines serving both cities began canceling most of their flights. Ports in the area also closed.

A hurricane warning -- meaning winds of at least 74 mph were expected within 24 hours -- was in effect from Jupiter Inlet south to Florida City, including Lake Okeechobee to the west.

The storm was relatively small. The eye was only 10 miles across, and hurricane force winds extended only 15 miles from the center.

The long-term forecast track from the hurricane center showed Katrina weakening and crossing the Florida peninsula Friday, then moving out over the Gulf of Mexico and sweeping north toward the hurricane-weary northern Gulf Coast.

The storm could make a second landfall late Sunday or early Monday.

"We're becoming very concerned that as it moves in the gulf, even though it will weaken over the peninsula, it will have a very good chance to restrengthen into a hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico," said Max Mayfield, director of the hurricane center.

The stretch of Gulf Coast from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle already has been hit with three tropical systems this year -- Hurricane Dennis and tropical storms Arlene and Cindy.

Because of the erratic nature of hurricane movement, long-range forecasts often change.

Thursday evening, a tropical storm warning was issued for the west coast of the Florida peninsula from Longboat Key near Bradenton south to Florida Bay; for the Florida Keys; and for the east coast from Florida City southward to Florida Bay and from Jupiter Inlet north to Vero Beach.

The warning means tropical storm conditions, including sustained winds of at least 39 mph, were expected in the next 24 hours.

Katrina is the 11th named storm of the busy 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, with more than three months to go.

By contrast, over the past 60 years the average number of named storms in an entire season was just 10, according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

The large number of early storms prompted forecasters to update their estimates of hurricane activity this year, projecting that as many as 21 named storms might develop.

Historically, the busiest months for tropical activity are September, August and October -- in that order.

CNN's Jason Carroll, Jacqui Jeras, Rob Marciano and Ed Zarrella contributed to this report.

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