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Hurricane A Distant Threat in S.C.

August 28, 1999

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) _ As Hurricane Dennis inched closer to the lower East Coast, surfers took advantage of high waves and tourists bathed in the sun on the beach, taking reports about the approaching storm system in stride.

``We’ll just watch the weather periodically,″ said Shara Lindsey-Waters, as she husband Frank Walters and their two daughters sat in the sand Friday afternoon at Myrtle Beach.

``We trust Myrtle Beach will give us plenty of warning,″ said Walters, from Stauton, Va.. ``Myrtle Beach is ready for that kind of stuff.″

Forecasters said Dennis could strengthen and hit the United States as a major storm today, sliding along the Florida coast and heading up to North Carolina by Monday.

Despite the hurricane threat, Thomas Edwards, manager of the Holiday Sands Motel that overlooks the beach, said Friday the motel was booked solid with about 400 people and no one had called to cancel.

``Until the governor calls a mandatory evacuation of the area, it’s business as usual,″ he said.

From hundreds of miles away, Dennis kicked up 8-foot-high waves off Florida and North Carolina, delighting surfers but prompting officials to put state troopers and the National Guard on alert.

Hurricane watches were issued, as were tropical storm warnings along hundreds of miles of the eastern seaboard.

At 2 a.m. EDT, the 80-mph hurricane was near the Bahamas, about 280 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral in Florida.

But forecasters warned residents not to take the threat lightly.

``We need to take it seriously, (and) hope the hurricane doesn’t hit,″ said Jerry Jarrell, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. ``But it’s coming too close for you to take a chance on it.″

While surfers took advantage of the waves, county officials removed traffic signs, lifeguard towers and barricades from the beach so they wouldn’t be blown away by the storm.

Shrimp boats returned early to Port Canaveral, and the South Florida Water Management District lowered water levels in canals to lessen the risk of flooding in heavy rains.

In South Carolina, the governor ordered 1,000 National Guard troops and 500 state troopers to prepare for duty, while in North Carolina, 150,000 coastal residents were put on alert, as were state troopers and emergency management personnel.

People in Myrtle Beach kept an eye on the weather reports. However, with predictions that the storm _ if it hits _ wouldn’t land until at least Monday, most people in this city that thrives on tourism enjoyed the sun and surf.

``It’s not really a huge issue right now,″ lifeguard Mike Miehm said, who said he was in for a lot of work ``because people try to get in as much surfing before the hurricane. It’s really dangerous.″

At the Breakers Hotel, manager Kay Harris said most of 400 rooms were filled for Friday night with golfers, tourists and some reporters. She said reports of the storm chased away a lot of walk-in business.

``Normally we have a trail of traffic up (U.S.) Highway 501 and tonight there’s nothing,″ Ms. Harris said. With the weather channels and the Internet, she said, ``it seems we start earlier with the worry and warnings.″

In Charleston, S.C., one of the only signs of an approaching storm was a collection of television satellite trucks parked along the city’s historic battery.

Nearby, John Pharr, a senior at the College of Charleston, was surfing the 5-foot waves at Folly Beach.

``It’s happened before,″ the Virginia Beach, Va., resident said. ``I’m not too worried.″

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