ShareThis Page
Nation

Frances crawls toward Florida, jangling nerves of millions

| Saturday, Sept. 4, 2004

STUART, Fla. (AP) -- Hurricane Frances lost some steam and hesitated off the Florida coast Friday, prolonging the anxiety among the millions evacuated and raising fears of a slow, ruinous drenching over the Labor Day weekend.

Downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane, the storm was expected to come ashore with up to 20 inches of rain as early as Saturday afternoon, nearly a day later than earlier predictions.

For the 2.5 million residents told to clear out -- the biggest evacuation in Florida history -- and the millions of others who remained at home, Frances' tardy arrival meant yet another day of waiting and worrying.

"It's all the anticipation that really gets to you," said Frank McKnight of Wellington, who waited four hours at a hardware store to buy plywood. "I just wish it would get here, and we could get it all over with. I want to know now -- am I going to have a house left or not?"

A hurricane warning remained in effect for Florida's eastern coast, starting about 30 miles north of Daytona Beach and extending almost to the state's southern tip. Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency for all of Florida.

At 8 p.m. EDT, Frances was centered about 200 miles southeast of Palm Beach. Gusty wind began to buffet the coast, and utilities reported that as many as 170,000 customers lost power at one point.

As Frances pounded the Bahamas, its top wind fell to 105 mph from 145 mph a day earlier. And its march toward Florida slowed to about 4 mph. The storm's lumbering pace and monstrous size -- twice as big as devastating Hurricane Andrew in 1992 -- mean Frances could spend hours wringing itself out over Florida, causing disastrous flooding.

"The storm, unlike Charley and others in the past, will be with us for a long, long time," Bush said.

Frances might remain over Florida for two cycles of high tide, meaning two rounds of storm surges expected to be 5 to 10 feet.

"This storm is bringing us everything," said Craig Fugate, Florida's top emergency management official. "It's going to bring storm surge, it's going to bring hurricane-force winds for a sustained period of time, it's going to bring torrential rainfall, it's going to bring tornadoes."

Wind gusts in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach had reached 38 mph yesterday afternoon. Palm fronds bent in the wind as waves slammed into the beaches. A gust peeled half the roof off a mobile home in Davie, but no one was hurt.

In Miami, which was expected to escape the worst of Frances, winds at the leading edge toppled trees and caused scattered power outages.

Among those evacuated were about 3,000 state inmates and approximately 500 patients at more than a dozen hospitals. When 12 shelters reached capacity in Volusia County, officials sent new evacuees elsewhere and opened three new shelters.

Roads in the northern parts of Florida were congested with people trying to leave the state. In the south, it appeared that many people had already gone, leaving highways mostly clear. No major traffic problems were reported.

At a Fort Lauderdale marina, Michael Wasserberg checked on his 65-foot boat and worried that many will misjudge the hurricane's ferocity.

"People are hearing that the winds are down to only 115 mph," he said. "Well, if a bug hits you at 115 mph, it will knock your head off."

Frances was expected to come ashore along the middle of Florida's eastern coast, crawl across the state as a tropical storm just north of Tampa and weaken to a tropical depression as it moves over the Panhandle on Monday.

The threat comes three weeks after Hurricane Charley killed 27 people and caused billions of dollars in damage in southwestern Florida. At a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, President Bush spoke of another potential round of devastation for Florida.

"I've ordered teams to be in position to help the good people of that state," he said. "But the best thing we can do here is to offer our prayers."

For the most part, evacuees seemed to be adapting calmly to spending Labor Day weekend in shelters.

Nancy Syphax said the mood was good at an elementary school in Jensen Beach. "This is a necessary precaution," she said. "I'd rather be safe than comfortable at this moment."

Many schools and government offices closed, as did major amusement parks, the Kennedy Space Center and airports serving Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Melbourne.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency mobilized 4,500 workers, three times the number sent to help victims of Charley. Officials said they had enough people and supplies in the state to handle two disaster-relief operations at once.

The American Red Cross planned a larger relief operation than the one it conducted after Hurricane Andrew. Back then, the agency spent $81 million.

Hurricane season usually peaks in early September, and the ninth named storm of the season formed yesterday in the far eastern Atlantic. Tropical Storm Ivan was about 865 miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands with winds of 50 mph.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me