Ernesto Soaks Fla.; John Gains Power

Rain and wind caused by Tropical Storm Ernesto keeps drivers off the road August 29, 2006 in Miami, Florida. The National Hurricane Center said the storm would bring rain and wind gusts to the southern tip of the Florida Peninsula, including the Keys, Miami-Dade County and the Broward County area. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Getty Images/Joe Raedle

Florida is taking Tropical Storm Ernesto very seriously – with over a thousand people evacuated to shelters, and countless others hunkered down with emergency supplies.

At 11:30 p.m., Ernesto came ashore at Plantation Key, Fla., after several hours of rain from its outer edges, but with a diminished force that surprised forecasters who had thought it might strengthen as it approached Florida.

As the threat of damaging winds abated, rain became the number one concern, and police distributed thousands of sandbags in the low-lying Miami suburb of Sweetwater. As much as ten inches of rain is predicted.

At 2 a.m., the center of the storm was located about 50 miles south-southwest of Miami, with maximum sustained winds of about 45 miles per hour, and a chance of being downgraded to a tropical depression during the day on Wednesday.

Ernesto is moving toward the north-northwest at about 7 miles per hour, and a turn to the north with an increase in forward speed is expected during the day Wednesday.

The center of Ernesto is forecast to move through the middle of Florida and exit by early Thursday, via the northeast coast on its way to the Atlantic, where it could regain hurricane strength before hitting Georgia or the Carolinas.

Briefly a hurricane Sunday, Ernesto lost much of its punch crossing mountainous eastern Cuba. The storm crossed the Florida Straits with top sustained winds of 45 mph and was expected to move through Florida overnight as a weak tropical storm.

"Fortunately it didn't get too big," said David Rudduck of the American Red Cross. "It was the little train that couldn't."

That was good news for Florida, the victim of seven hurricanes since 2004.

"Frankly, I am surprised it has not strengthened," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center. "But for all those thousands and thousands of people with blue-tarped roofs, that's good news. ... As a homeowner, I'm very happy. As a forecaster, I'm not very happy."

The storm has been especially worrisome for thousands of residents still awaiting repairs to damage from hurricanes in 2004 and 2005.

Many Floridians will weather the storm with nothing between them and the elements but a thin blue tarp. CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports nearly 20,000 families in the Miami area alone are still waiting to have their roofs repaired from damage done by Hurricane Wilma last October. The problem is lack of money, materials and manpower.

"I understand, you know, other places are destroyed completely, but a year later?" says Glenda Mora of Miami. Her entire condo community was damaged last October. "They gotta look at us, too. We're still waiting."

In Key Largo, John and Rebecca Strydom planned to ride out the storm in their sailboat in shallow waters among mangroves, which they said protect boats from large waves and cause less damage than being tied to a dock. Rebecca Strydom, 35, said about 40 vessels were joining them there.

"We make sure that everybody is tied in because we don't want them to get loose," she said. "I feel safer out there."

Accidents on rain-slickened expressways have killed at least two people. A Miami woman died after the car in which she was riding hydroplaned and struck a palm tree, and a motorcyclist was killed near Boca Raton after skidding and being struck by two other vehicles.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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