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Mopping up after Frances

| Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2004

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As Hurricane Frances dissipated into bands of heavy rain on Labor Day, Floridians anxiously trekked back to homes they left behind in one of the largest mass evacuations in American history.

But a former Penn Hills woman wasn't in the bumper-to-bumper traffic heading south on Interstate 95. Mildred Danley Hopping chose to ride out the storm in the bungalow she and her nephew share a block and a half from the ocean in storm-ravaged Daytona Beach.

Hopping, 79, said the storm that killed four people and left six million without power was the worst she's seen since she left the Pittsburgh area in 1970.

"Things were blowing every which way," she said, showing a visitor the bedroom where she waited out the storm with her cat, Sweetie Pie.

The wind tore most of the shingles from the roof of her home. Then the rain began pounding into the attic. Before long, water-logged ceiling tiles dropped to the living room floor.

Hopping's nephew, Milton Kaulack, 45, of Towanda, N.Y., secured tarps to the roof of the one-story bungalow as his aunt set out pans to catch dripping water.

Shaking his head, he said, "I'm waiting to see FEMA," referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A block away, John and Joan Ellis were less fortunate. The couple, who fled the storm, returned to find the house that had been in their family for 60 years uninhabitable.

"We've been hauling things away since daybreak," said John Ellis, 70.

Next door, Ellis' neighbor Joe Fanning, 34, said he couldn't believe his luck.

"My house was totally untouched," he said, looking at the wreckage that had been the Ellises' home.

A native Floridian who runs fishing charters out of Daytona Beach, John Ellis said he was still waiting for permission to visit the docks to see what Frances had done to his boats.

The slow-moving storm unleashed a steady torrent of rain pelting the region since Saturday, with the skies only beginning to clear yesterday evening.

SR A1A, also known as South Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach's hotel-lined boulevard that has been site of college spring break festivities for decades, was just returning to life last night after police allowed business owners to return.

At 6 p.m., Amer Kahlad was on a ladder outside his pizza shop, trying to repair a damaged fan. He said the storm took down an outside sign at his other shop several blocks away.

Residents, shopkeepers and emergency management officials who were still trying to assess the damage welcomed the break in the rain.

As Frances approached, much of the region still was cleaning up from Hurricane Charley's rampage three weeks earlier. Residents, many of whom had been without power for several days last month, found themselves once again struggling to get through the power outages and shortages.

Although convoys of out-of-state utility company trucks promised eventual relief, there was little to be found yesterday.

A Sam's Club quickly became the most popular gathering spot in the Daytona Beach area when word got out that the gas pumps there were running and fuel was available for portable generators.

Steven Cooney, 36, of Port Orange, a community adjoining Daytona to the south, sat in line in his truck for half an hour.

A Cleveland native who moved to Florida 17 years ago, Cooney said he and his neighbors watched the storm from his garage.

"It was like looking at a car wreck. It was mesmerizing. You couldn't take your eyes off of it," Cooney said as he waited in line for gas.

While Cooney's house was not damaged, he said homes several streets away sustained major flooding. "We saw people going down the street in a canoe," he said.

Parts of Daytona Beach also flooded when the Halifax River overflowed its banks, spilling up to three feet of water in some neighborhoods.

As of yesterday morning 250 power lines were down and officials still were tallying up the property damage in the city of 65,000.

"Our big problem is we've got another one coming with (Hurricane) Ivan," said Jeffrey Smith, commander of the Daytona Beach Emergency Operation Center.

A dangerous, fast-moving hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, Ivan descended on Barbados last night and was expected to turn toward the west-northwest some time today, according to the National Weather Service.

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