Tropical Storm Churns Closer to Florida


.c The Associated Press

CLEARWATER, Fla. (Sept. 21, 99) - Tropical Storm Harvey changed course and bore down on southern Florida today with 50 mph wind and heavy rain, forcing schools to close and prompting an emergency declaration from the governor.

Five to 10 inches of rain were expected from the storm, which was forecast to come ashore near Naples, 150 miles south of Clearwater, by tonight.

The National Weather Service reported two possible tornadoes in western Miami-Dade County.

Harvey weakened slightly and veered to the southeast early today, bringing out tropical storm warnings for southern Florida, including the Keys island chain.

After crossing Florida, the storm was expected to turn onto a more easterly course and finally head northeastward into the Atlantic. A tropical storm warning also was posted for the Bahamas.

Earlier predictions had the storm making landfall near Tampa, on Florida's western coast, then moving along the coast with a threat of more heavy rain for flood-stricken North Carolina.

Now, said Todd Kimberlain, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center, ''in the end it may not have much impact at all'' on the Carolinas.

At 5 a.m., the storm was centered about 70 miles southwest of Fort Myers and moving to the east-southeast at 10 mph. Tropical storm-force wind of at least 39 mph extended out some 115 miles.

''The center is not really well defined. It's just kind of a raggedy system,'' said Stephen Baig, oceanographer at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. ''Essentially, the southern peninsula of Florida is going to get lots of rain and gusts.''

Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday declared a state of emergency for 56 of 67 counties in anticipation of the storm. Harvey could produce storm surge flooding of up to 6 feet above normal in some places.

Schools closed for the day in the Florida Keys, in Collier County and in the Lee County-Fort Myers area, mostly out of concern for local street flooding.

But most voluntary evacuations called for in the Tampa area - advising people living in mobile homes, recreational vehicles, coastal and low-lying areas to move - were lifted today.

''It's been pretty quiet up here,'' said John Brill, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Emergency Management Center. ''It turned toward the south and we haven't had a whole lot of action up here.''

Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic, a hurricane warning was in effect for Bermuda as Gert moved to within 150 miles of the island this morning with top wind of 110 mph. It was moving toward the north at about 10 mph.

AP-NY-09-21-99 1039EDT