ATLANTA -- Hurricane Andrew ripped and roared west across South Florida yesterday, leaving extensive damage in its path.
The storm caused widespread closings of securities firms throughout the southern portion of the state and sent credit analysts scrambling to assess harm to local governments, according to market participants. Damage reports were not immediately available.
Industry participants said there was no panic selling of Florida securities.
"People are trying to keep a sane view of things," said William G. Jahnes, a managing director at Merrill Lynch's public finance operation in Clearwater.
Mr. Jahnes said most firms in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area on the state's west coast, including Merrill's Clearwater office, remained open.
"From what I hear, the storm was extremely compact, sort of like a large tornado," he said, speaking from Clearwater. "It's not been a day to be outdoors in South Florida."
But although business came to a standstill in southern Florida, no major deal were canceled because of the hurricane, securities professionals said. Jacksonville, Fla.'s $77.2 million revenue refunding bond issue scheduled for sale by Kidder Peabody & Co. was postponed because of market conditions and not the hurricane, officials said.
"We will go to market when we get the right interest rate." said Ronald Halper, a Kidder vice president. "The hurricane has nothing to do with the delay."
Preliminary reports were sketchy, but the Associated Press reported that the storm struck hardest near Homestead, a city 25 miles southwest of Miami with a population of 20,000. The storm devastated that town.
As of late yesterday afternoon, the storm was 200 miles off the Florida coast in the Gulf of Mexico and heading northwest. Eight deaths were attributed to the storm, and nearly 400,000 people remained without power. More than one million people were told to evacuate, and 700,000 reportedly obeyed the order.
President George Bush declared Dade, Monroe, and Broward countries disaster areas, enabling them to receive up to $50 million in federal aid.
Gov. Lawton Chiles called up 1,500 National Guard troops yesterday, after declaring a state of emergency on Sunday. The governor also directed the state's turnpike authority not to collect tolls to facilitate movement of traffic inland, according to the governor's press office.
Andrew's winds exceeded 150 miles per hour in Florida, the press office reported, compared to Hurricane Hugo's 135 mile per hour winds in South Carolina in 1989. Hugo caused $7 billion of damage in that state.
The governor said in a statement yesterday, "I will be in touch during the day to see ... that everything runs smoothly and that we do everything we can to help the people down there."
Credit analysts, who were monitoring the situation closely, said that in the next few days they will try to gauge the storm's effect on local governments and the state.
"As in similar circumstances, we will assess the direct costs of the storm in a systematic way," said George Leung, managing director of state ratings at Moody's Investors Service. "We do not have information yet on the damages"
Moody's says Homestead has about $5.3 million of revenue debt outstanding and $60,000 of general obligation debt. Further details were not available.
Jon Reichert, a director at Standard & Poor's Corp., said his agency yesterday was attempting to identify those local governments that were in the path of the hurricane
"We will be making our calls in the next several days," he said. "Our evaluation will depend on the level of assistance from the state and federal government as well as the damage itself," he said.
Authorities have declared an alert from Mobile, Ala., to Sadine Pass, Tex., over the next several days.
The Miami area has not been hit directly by a hurricane since Betsy slammed into the South Florida coast in 1965.