FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Hurricane Katrina (search) churned through Florida's densely populated southeastern coast Thursday with sustained winds of 80 mph and lashing rain. Two people were killed by falling trees.
The storm strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane (search) just before it made landfall along the Miami-Dade and Broward county line between Hallandale Beach and North Miami Beach. Weather officials said flooding was the main concern as the storm dropped a foot of rain or more in some spots.
Rain fell in horizontal sheets, seas were estimated at 15 feet and blew gusts of up to 92 mph, toppling trees and street signs. Florida Power & Light (search) said more than 412,000 customers were without electricity.
Late Thursday, Katrina was centered in northwest Miami-Dade County, heading west at 6 mph. An estimated 5.9 million Florida residents were in Katrina's projected path.
The storm proved fatal for two people who ignored warnings to stay inside until the worst was over. A man in his 20s in Fort Lauderdale was crushed by a falling tree as he sat alone in his car, while a pedestrian was killed by a falling tree in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Plantation.
"The message needs to be very clear. It's not a good night to be out driving around," National Hurricane Center (search) director May Mayfield. "The back side of the core of the hurricane has yet to come. It's not over yet."
The usually bustling streets of Miami Beach, a tourist haven, were largely deserted as the storm pounded the area. The city is hosting celebrities and partygoers in town for the MTV Video Music Awards. MTV called off its pre-awards festivities Thursday and Friday.
"It's like a ghost town out here," said Mark Darress, concierge at The Astor Hotel in Miami Beach. "I see the random, not so smart people, riding scooters every now and then."
Tourists and others hoping to get out of town before the storm were stranded as airlines canceled flights at Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports, which both closed Thursday night.
Three mobile home parks in Davie sustained considerable damage, according to the Broward Emergency Management Agency (search). "A lot of roofs are off," said Dennis Myers, a spokesman for the agency.
When the eye of the hurricane passed over the National Hurricane Center in west Miami-Dade County, forecasters ran outside to experience the calm at the center of the storm.
In an oceanfront condominium in Hallandale, Carolyne and Carter McHyman said heavy downpours once again pelted their windows after the eye passed.
"It's been horrible," Carolyne McHyman said. "Basically all our windows are leaking. We just keep mopping up and taping the windows, mopping up and taping again."
Before the hurricane struck, Floridians wary of Katrina prepared by putting up shutters, stacking sandbags in doorways and stocking up on supplies.
At a supermarket in Hollywood, Cassandra Butler hefted two five-gallon bottles of water as well as a 24-pack of smaller 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."
At a Home Depot in Miami, Jose Guerrera, 68, loaded 4-by-8 sheets of plywood onto a metal cart. He and his family huddled in their Coral Gables home as Hurricane Andrew screamed by in 1993 and he has been boarding up the house during hurricanes ever since.
"I have to protect the doors and windows," Guerrera said. His wife, meanwhile, was shopping for water and food. "That's her problem. She's gotta take care of the food. I take care of the work."
Water management officials lowered canal levels to avoid possible flooding, and pumps were activated in several low-lying areas of Miami-Dade.
Dozens of surfers and spectators lined beaches from Palm Beach to Miami-Dade counties to take advantage of the massive waves on the normally placid seas, and long 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, of Davie.
Katrina was the second hurricane to hit the state this year -- Dennis hit the Panhandle last month -- and the sixth since Aug. 13, 2004. Katrina formed Wednesday over the Bahamas and was expected to cross Florida before heading into the Gulf of Mexico.
After crossing the peninsula, the storm could turn to the north over the Gulf of Mexico and threaten the Panhandle early next week, forecasters said. Bush encouraged residents of Florida's Panhandle and Big Bend areas to monitor the storm.
Katrina is the 11th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1. That's seven more than have typically formed by now in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the hurricane center said. The season ends Nov. 30.