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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -- Katrina became a hurricane Thursday, dumping steady rains, kicking up the surf and blowing gusty winds ashore as it crept toward an overnight landfall on Florida's densely populated southeast coast.
Katrina's maximum sustained wind speeds increased from 50 to 75 mph on Thursday, making it a weak Category 1 storm, said hurricane specialist Lixion Avila of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Category 1 storms have top sustained winds of 74 to 95 mph, and wind damage to secured structures is usually minimal.
Wary Floridians put up shutters, stacked sandbags and stocked up on water and gasoline ahead of the slow-moving storm, whose biggest threat appeared to be torrential rain. It is expected to make landfall later Thursday or early Friday.
Katrina's path appeared centered on the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, but forecasters warned that the storm could swing north or south before landfall. If the forecast holds, Katrina would be the second hurricane to hit the state this year -- Dennis hit the Panhandle last month -- and the sixth since Aug. 13, 2004.
Katrina could drop a foot or more of rain in spots as it lumbers across the state. Battering waves and storm surge flooding of 2 to 4 feet were also likely, and isolated tornadoes were possible, forecasters said. Rain fell steadily in much of Miami-Dade and Broward counties ahead of the storm's arrival, and tropical storm force winds of about 35 mph were being felt along the coast.
"Ever since Hurricane Andrew, I always prepare for hurricanes," Icel Diaz, 29, who lives in the flood-prone city of Sweetwater, said as she gathered sandbags for her home. "Sometimes I overprepare, buying too many supplies." At a supermarket in Hollywood, Cassandra Butler hefted two 5-gallon bottles of water as well as a 24-pack of individual size bottles into her shopping cart Thursday.
"It's not that I'm worried. I've been in South Florida all my life," Butler said. "But this is a feature of life down here, and you are smart to deal with it."
Others seemed less worried. Dozens of surfers and spectators lined beaches to take advantage of the massive waves on the normally flaccid seas, and lines didn't seem to be a problem at most area gas stations, supermarkets and hardware stores.
"This is the best of both worlds because it'll bring great waves, but it is not at all dangerous," said surfer Kurt Johnston, 22.
Still, Gov. Jeb Bush urged residents Thursday to prepare for the storm because of its potentially "tremendous rain."
The storm was affecting airline passengers, as flights were canceled at Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports.
Karen Mays, her husband and 10-year-old daughter were on their way from Jasper, Ala., to the Bahamas when their flight from Fort Lauderdale was canceled. They rushed out of the airport for a three-hour drive to Orlando, where they hoped to catch another flight and salvage their vacation.
"This is her first vacation, so we wanted to make it something special," Mays said of her daughter.
Broward County recommended that people evacuate barrier islands and low-lying regions, and federal courts, public schools and colleges in the region were closed.
Katrina formed Wednesday over the Bahamas, and by Thursday a hurricane warning stretched along a stretch of the southeastern Florida coast.
At 3 p.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 35 miles east-northeast of Fort Lauderdale and was moving west at about 6 mph.
After crossing the Florida peninsula and entering the Gulf of Mexico, it was expected to turn north and threaten the Panhandle early next week, forecasters said.
The four hurricanes that hit Florida last year caused an estimated $46 billion in damage across the country.
Katrina is the 11th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1. That is seven more than have typically formed by now in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the hurricane center said.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)