Katrina Gains Strength

Utility crews scrambled to restore power to more than 1 million customers Friday as Hurricane Katrina (search), blamed for six deaths and miles of flooded streets in South Florida, threatened the state with an encore visit.

Katrina was churning in the Gulf of Mexico and on a path to make landfall anywhere from the Florida Panhandle to Louisiana as early as Monday, possibly as a Category 4 storm (search).

"I'm so sick of this," said Pat Jackson, an interior decorator in Homestead. Her apartment building was flooded with several inches of water during Katrina's first pass across the state.

"It seems like every other week or month another one comes," she said.

Scenes of Katrina's impact were everywhere Friday — work crews sawing trees crippled by the winds; people canoeing through inundated streets; a 727 cargo plane pushed along a runway fence; sailboats resting askew on a sandy shore.

Florida has been hit by six hurricanes since last August, and the Panhandle was slammed by Hurricane Ivan last year, and then again by Hurricane Dennis this year, both Category 3 storms. Katrina was a Category 1 with 80 mph winds when it hit Florida on Thursday.

On Friday, Gov. Jeb Bush (search) urged residents in many of the same Panhandle areas to monitor the storm and make necessary preparations. If Katrina hit at Category 4 strength, as forecasters say it could, it would mean sustained winds topping 130 mph.

Bush said he had asked for federal disaster assistance for Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where some residents said they were caught off guard by the gathering storm.

"Maybe we can get rid of the phrase minimal hurricane," state meteorologist Ben Nelson said Friday. "There is no such thing as a minimal hurricane."

The death toll grew to six, including three people killed by falling trees and two boaters who tried to ride out the storm in their crafts. Authorities had said the toll was seven, but revised it to six after saying one death was not storm-related.

Risk modeling company AIR Worldwide estimated insured losses from Katrina's first landfall could approach $600 million.

Katrina, the second hurricane to hit Florida this year, grew from a disorganized 50-mph tropical storm to one with 92-mph wind gusts in a few hours Thursday.

It pummeled South Florida with blankets of rain and howling winds. Darkened skies lit up with popping power transformers, trees flew across streets and rain swamped some neighborhoods with water up to waist high.

"We had wind coming from two directions. It sounded like a super wind tunnel," said Scott Resnick, who rode out the storm in Hallandale Beach.

As it moved out into the Gulf on Friday, Katrina became a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds and lashed the Florida Keys with strong outer bands that could dump up from 15 to 20 inches over the island chain.

At 8 p.m. EDT, Katrina was about 100 miles west of Key West. It was moving toward the west-southwest near 8 mph. Still a Category 2 storm, its sustained winds were near 100 mph.

The National Hurricane Center said Katrina was expected to strengthen significantly over warm Gulf waters and warned residents from Florida to southeast Louisiana to be ready.

Hardware stores in the Panhandle reported increased sales of gasoline containers, lanterns, batteries and tarps. Joe Crews at Meredith and Sons Lumber in Gulf Breeze said a steady stream of people came in to buy plywood Thursday.

"They're not anxious, but they are cautious," he said. "A lot of them haven't gotten repaired since the last storms, and they want to try to take the steps to save what they've got left."

Katrina's first swipe across Florida left about 50 homes flooded in Homestead and 40 mobile homes damaged in Broward County.

At a 12-unit apartment complex in Davie, Beverly Johnson, 41, and her 7-year-old son used pots to hold all the dripping water after their roof caved in during the storm.

"Water came in and then the ceiling collapsed," she said. "We were really shaken up last night."

Street flooding and debris strewn on the roads made many streets impassable, a situation made worse by power outages that affected street lights.

An overpass under construction in Miami-Dade County collapsed onto a highway. No injuries were reported, but the freeway — a main east-west thoroughfare — was closed for 20 blocks.

David Carter rode out the storm in his Coconut Grove home, listening as avocados were torn off branches and hitting the structure.

"It sounded like tiny bowling balls hitting the top of the roof and rolling down," he said. "You just heard the big thud."

The hurricane hindered the Coast Guard's search early Friday for a family of five who went out on their 24-foot pleasure boat. A Coast Guard helicopter finally found Edward and Tina Larsen and their three children. Their conditions were not immediately known.

The hurricane emptied the usually bustling streets of Miami Beach. The city is hosting celebrities and partygoers in town for Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards. MTV called off its pre-awards festivities Thursday and Friday.

And in the face of all the damage, some people took advantage of the wild weather to have fun. Surfers hit South Florida beaches Thursday ahead of the storm, and after it passed Friday.

"It's like a one-day vacation," said 17-year-old surfer Chris Dobson in Deerfield Beach. "We're just hoping to catch a few good waves, and have some fun out here while we can."