S. Fla. escapes a major blow

Hurricane Irene’s outer bands barely brushed South Florida, but the massive storm’s squalls still made for an occasionally ugly, gusty, rainy day.

Cities reported no serious flooding or damage, Florida Power & Light said outages were scattered but not significant — and surfers said the swells were sweet.

“You never want a storm to hurt any one, but surfers live for this,” said Ryan Broome, who went surfing in Hollywood Beach Thursday afternoon. “We don’t see waves like this around here all that much.”

F1rst Surf Shop in South Beach was “bombarded” with requests for board rentals and locals buying gear, manager Carlos Valdessaid.

Still, authorities warned beachgoers to be careful of dangerous rip currents. Late Thursday, rescuers feared the worst when a swimmer in northern Palm Beach County disappeared. He was found more than a mile from where he went into the ocean.

Around 5 p.m., rescue workers responded to reports of as many as eight people injured after they were apparently hit by a large wave that washed people off the north jetty of the Boynton Inlet, a fire rescue spokesman said. Seven were treated for minor injuries, while one person was transported to Delray Medical Center in serious condition.

In northern Broward County, the Deerfield Beach fishing pier and public beach was closed at 3:30 p.m. Thursday due to severe weather and dangerously high surf. Weather permitting, officials said the pier will reopen Friday morning.

Pounding waves didn’t appear to do much damage to shorelines. Inspectors found some possible erosion around 44th and 55th streets in Miami Beach, both areas scheduled for renourishment in the near future, said Marina Blanco-Pape, chief of the weather management division for Miami-Dade’s Department of Environmental Resources Management.

“Based on what we saw and what we’ve heard, it doesn’t seem too bad,” said Blanco-Pape.

The storm could be disastrous for turtle nests in the sand, however. Storm surge was expected to coincide with high tide, a scenario that could wash eggs out to sea where they will never hatch.

“This is a natural calamity, but it’s something we anticipate every year,” said Kelly Martin, a Biologist with the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach.

The rough surf is expected to stick around into Friday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Molleda, though the weather should be much improved.

“It’s not going to be as wet, as squally,” Molleda said. “It’ll still be breezy.”

The chance of rain Friday is 40 percent in most of South Florida.

Thursday brought South Florida about what was expected: intermittent storm bands, wind gusts of 40-50 mph in North Broward and Palm Beach, rainfall of one to two inches.

But locals who dodged the Category 3 bullet didn’t seem to mind that their Thursday was washed out.

Dan Ryckman of Hollywood said he enjoyed the respite from the summer heat.

“The rain really cools everything down,” he said, as he left a Hollywood grocery store. “I love the rain. Bring it on.”

In Homestead, where memories of the devastation caused by Hurricane Andrew are still fresh 19 years later, weather threats were taken seriously. Homestead emergency coordinator Edward Bowe joined National Weather Service conference calls and watched webinars twice a day for the latest briefings.

“Even though the reports come in, we’ve been fooled by them before,” he said. “You can’t predict weather.”

Sandy Stein, who owns The Jungle Nursery in Homestead, said some plants tipped over due to winds. But that can happen during summertime storms, he said.

“We all feel like we were given a break,” Stein said.

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