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WIND NEARLY HIT 200 MPH, METEOROLOGISTS BELIEVE

A team of meteorologists discovered a blocklong path of wreckage in a south Dade County community that indicates Hurricane Andrew packed winds of nearly 200 mph.

Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, said Wednesday's finding disputes suggestions last week by the Wind Engineering Research Council that Hurricane Andrew's winds averaged 110 to 125 mph.Sheets, who led the latest team, called the council's estimate "pure myth." He stuck by initial Hurricane Center reports of gusts of 140 to 175 mph.

The discovery of damage to townhouses in the unincorporated community of Naranja Lakes came out of a four-day wind field survey of Dade County by a team of experts for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Judging from the severity of winds during Andrew and Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Sheets said the United States may be entering a cycle of increased wind activity similar to the 1940s, when seven major hurricanes struck Florida.

An Air Force aircraft measured Andrew's winds at 197 mph at 10,000 feet. Below 1,500 feet, wind speed normally decreases by up to 25 percent. However, investigators said damage indicates stronger winds may have been brought to ground level by sustained wind streaks.

Meanwhile, Gen. Colin Powell visited more than 28,000 troops assisting the victims of Hurricane Andrew and pledged his support for the rebuilding of heavily-damaged Homestead Air Force Base.

"It's one thing to close a base that you are planning to close over a period of years. It's another thing when you shut it down overnight as the result of a hurricane," Powell said after touring a relief center Wednesday. "The correct decision has been made to rebuild it."