Hurricane Erin roared into this resort city and sliced across central Florida on Wednesday, pounding the homes of Mickey Mouse and the space shuttle on a northerly track that caught some people by sur-prise.
Half a million people were reported without electricity.However, the storm lacked the fury of Andrew three years ago and there were no immediate reports of serious damage or injury. Hundreds of thousands of people with strong memories of Andrew had fled inland in southern Florida.
After moving over land, it weakened, with sustained wind down to 50 mph by 10 a.m., and was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm.
At its peak, Erin packed sustained wind of 85 mph with gusts to 100 mph.
About 70 miles of coastline north of Palm Beach was battered by wind and sheets of rain.
"It's unreal!" said a sopping wet Marv Thiel, 36, of Kaukauna, Wis., standing in the darkened hallway of a Vero Beach hotel. "Spec-tac-ular."
Trees and power lines came down and sections of roof overhangs and bits of roof tile blew away in coastal communities near Cape Canaveral.
Statewide, some 14,000 spent the night in 200 shelters, state emergency management officials said Wednesday. A 72-year-old woman died of a heart attack in a shelter at Tampa; it was unknown if her death had anything to do with the storm.
In the Bahamas, Erin ripped boats from their moorings and caused extensive damage to orchards of bananas, avocados and mangoes. Heavy rain fell in the storm's outer fringes in Jamaica, where a plane crash killed five people.
At 10 a.m. EDT, Erin was centered near 28.4 north latitude and 82.6 west longitude, about 30 miles north-northwest of Tampa. It was moving toward the west-northwest at about 17 mph with steady wind down to 50 mph.
All hurricane warnings were discontinued for the Atlantic Coast early Wednesday, but tropical storm warnings remained in effect for much of the state's two coasts.
Erin was expected to shoot into the Gulf of Mexico about 75 miles north of Tampa. It might strength-en somewhat after moving over the warm water of the gulf, and it could brush Apalachicola in the panhandle as early as Thursday, forecasters said.
Only 2 inches fell at Erin's landfall in Vero Beach, with much less to the south, largely eliminating flood risks. As much as 5 to 10 inches had been predicted. Vero Beach got a 4-foot storm surge as the storm piled water up against the coast.
Widespread power outages in central Florida left 500,000 people without electricity and Florida Power & Light spokesman Ray Golden said it could take several days to repair the downed lines.
The worst-hit area was Brevard County, NASA's home, where near-ly 5 inches of rain fell, 350,000 people were without power and 3,500 people took refuge in shelters, said utility and evacuation officials. Lesser damage was in St. Lucie and Martin counties to the south, where 2,800 spent the night in shelters.
The space center itself got off relatively lightly, a NASA official said.
"About the only thing we had was some exterior corrugated steel got ripped off the vehicle assembly building, and that was it," said Dave Flowers, NASA test director. Space shuttle Endeavour had been moved to a hangar as a precaution.