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    Ernesto Has Stores and Customers Stocking Up

    Florida c-store association says a 10-day supply of fuel is already on hand.

    Stores were stocked full of essential hurricane supplies and, for the most part, gas stations were ready for consumers to fill-up their tanks, South Florida businesses told the Associated Press yesterday as they geared up for Tropical Storm Ernesto.

    A hurricane watch was extended to most of Florida's densely populated Atlantic Coast on Monday as Ernesto, already blamed for one death, plowed across Cuba and threatened to strengthen. A state of emergency was in effect for the entire state as residents stocked up on fuel, water and other storm supplies, the Associated Press reported.

    The watch covered about 400 miles of Atlantic Coast, north to New Smyrna Beach, just north of Cape Canaveral, and from the southern tip of the state's Gulf Coast to Chokoloskee. It meant 74 mile-per-hour sustained wind, the minimum speed for a hurricane, was possible by late Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said.

    Ernesto had lost strength, but could grow into a hurricane again after it reaches the warm water north of Cuba, the hurricane center said.

    Florida has been hit by seven hurricanes and brushed by another in the past two years.

    Gov. Jeb Bush urged Floridians to make preparations and not wait for the storm to grow.

    "My suggestion: Take this storm very seriously. A hurricane is a hurricane," Bush said from the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

    Many residents were already getting ready, and scattered lines had formed at gas stations, supermarkets and hardware stores, according to media reports.

    Pedro Garcia, 38, and Alex Cabeza, 20, bought four six-gallon gas tanks and other supplies. "We're getting a little more knowledge that it's gas that's the most important thing," said Cabeza, who worried the price would jump to $5 if a major storm hits.

    Supplies of gas throughout the state are ''above normal,'' with about a 10-day supply already in stock, said Jim Smith of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. And statewide, he said about 20 percent of stations are now capable of running on generators, ahead of next year's deadline for most stations to have them.

    ''We haven't had any problems,'' Smith said, although he added that could change if there was “panic buying.” He recommended drivers fill up their tanks, but not if they are already three-fourths full.

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