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Here we go again: Florida boaters batten down

JULY 9 - The Hurricane Center in Miami Friday morning said Dennis was about 285 miles south of Key West, with maximum sustained winds near 135 mph and higher gusts. Some additional strengthening was expected before the storm slammed into Cuba later that day.

Dennis is expected to hit the United States anywhere from Florida to Louisiana by Sunday, according to the National Weather Service, with the lower Keys and the Gulf Coast expected to take the brunt of the storm.

The National Weather Service recommended that all hurricane preparations in the Keys be completed by Friday. A mandatory evacuation was also in effect in the lower Keys.

Meanwhile, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has called on vessel owners and operators to secure their boats well ahead of the approaching storm.

“Hurricane Dennis is a powerful and dangerous storm,” said Col. Julie Jones, the commission’s law enforcement director. “Boat owners have a duty to take reasonable precautions to secure their vessels and to prevent property damage that could result from boats breaking away from their mooring stations.” In addition to mooring boats securely, owners should remove loose objects from decks and tie down anything that can’t be moved from decks, she said.

Across the state, marinas are securing boats and taking other precautions, boating industry leaders said.

The 2005 hurricane season has been off to a fast and furious start, with four Atlantic storms already. While hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, experts say there typically is less activity in June and July.

Prof. William Gray, a hurricane expert at Colorado State University, in May predicted 2005 would be an above-average hurricane season, with 15 named storms, including eight hurricanes, of which four would be intense — Category 3 or higher.

— JoAnn W. Goddard