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© St. Petersburg Times, published November 2, 2000

Tampa woman missing at end of weeklong cruise

MIAMI -- Authorities searched Wednesday for a Tampa woman who disappeared from a cruise ship on the final day of a one-week Caribbean trip.

Manuelita Dejos Pierce, 40, was seen early Sunday by an employee of the Royal Caribbean International ship Enchantment of the Seas as she headed back to her room, company spokeswoman Lynn Martenstein said. The ship was returning to Port Everglades after stops in Key West, Mexico, Cayman Islands and Jamaica.

But later, after most of the nearly 2,000 guests had disembarked, "the cabin steward was cleaning the cabins and discovered that all of her clothes and possessions were not packed," Martenstein said Wednesday.

Employees along with local law enforcement officials searched the ship and the Coast Guard searched the water, but they could find no sign of Pierce.

Martenstein said authorities were investigating a report of a dispute between Pierce and a traveling companion. Judy Orihuela, a spokeswoman for the FBI, which is investigating, declined to comment on that report.

Letter attributed to Chiles was doctored, GOP admits

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Democrats are crying foul over campaign materials sent out by the Republican Party of Florida.

The Democrats are seeking an investigation into the use of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles' signature on the reproduction of a letter included in a mailed brochure for a Republican legislator.

The letter, dated two days before the Democratic governor's death and appearing to carry his signature, thanks Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, for his help during the Chiles administration.

A Republican Party official admitted Wednesday that the letter was doctored by the company that produced the flier.

The letterhead was recreated from a different letter to Posey, a signature belonging to then-Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay was removed, words were boldfaced and the word "voices" was changed to "voice," according to a statement issued by Eric Buermann, general counsel of the Republican Party.

Still, Buermann maintained, there is nothing wrong with the letter, which he said was changed to make it look better.

Florida cities listed among top 10 in increased traffic

ORLANDO -- Orlando, West Palm Beach and Jacksonville are among the nation's top 10 cities in terms of relative growth in highway travel the past five years, according to a research group's report released Wednesday.

The Road Information Project, based in Washington, also reported that traffic delays have increased an average of 82 percent in Florida's major urban areas in the past decade.

The report concluded that traffic congestion costs drivers in Florida's largest urban areas $3.5-billion a year in lost time and additional fuel.

The report said Orlando ranked fourth nationally with a 31 percent increase in vehicle travel over five years. West Palm Beach was sixth at 25 percent and greater Jacksonville seventh at 24 percent.

It estimated that traffic congestion annually costs $1.5-billion in the Miami area, $605-million in the Fort Lauderdale area, $555-million in greater Orlando, $430-million in greater Tampa and $360-million in the Jacksonville area.

Dead fish litter Panhandle shores; Red Tide blamed

FORT WALTON BEACH -- Red Tide is suspected in a massive fish kill that has left an overpowering stench hanging over the shoreline in this Florida Panhandle city and nearby communities.

Fish floating upside down, fish skeletons, fish with undersides bulging like balloons and fish infested with flies littered Fort Walton Beach area shores Wednesday by the thousands. They began turning up over the weekend.

"The 35-plus years we've lived here, we haven't had it like this," said Catherine Sirney, who lives on Poquito Bayou in nearby Shalimar.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has reported finding Red Tide, a toxic algae bloom, in the Gulf of Mexico and inland waters along a 100-mile stretch of the Panhandle coast.

Fatal to fish, Red Tide also causes skin irritation and respiratory difficulties in people. Health officials warned people to stay out of the water.

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