Hurricane Jeanne, the fourth major hurricane in six weeks, shut down much of Florida and prompted recovery plans on a scale never before seen in the nation. At least six people died in the storm, which plowed across Florida’s midsection in a virtual rerun for many residents still trying to regroup from hurricanes that have crisscrossed the Southeast since mid-August.
“Once again. we’re facing a hurricane/tropical storm that’s just wreaking havoc wherever it goes,” FEMA director Mike Brown told the CBS “The Early Show” Monday. “We have some people in Florida who have been hit two or three times now by these hurricanes. They have to be miserable right now.”
Rocketing debris scattered in earlier storms, Jeanne came ashore around midnight Saturday with 120-mph winds, striking its first blow in the same area hit three weeks ago by Hurricane Frances. It was expected to weaken into a tropical depression later Monday while moving east of the Panhandle, where 70,000 homes and businesses remained without power because of Hurricane Ivan less than two weeks ago.
“Adversity makes us strong. This dynamic state will return,” Gov. Jeb Bush said at the Indian River County emergency operations center Sunday, where nearly the entire county was without power and residents were told to boil tap water before drinking it to avoid contaminants.
Jeanne ripped off roofs, left stop lights dangling precariously, destroyed a deserted community center in Jensen Beach and flooded some bridges from the mainland to barrier islands straddling the Atlantic coast. About 2.3 million homes and businesses were without power.
Florida was the first state to withstand a four-hurricane pounding in one season since Texas in 1886 — a milestone that came with two months remaining in the hurricane season.
“We fix it and nature destroys it and we fix it again,” said Rockledge bar owner Franco Zavaroni, who opened his tavern to seven friends who spread mattresses on the floor among the pool tables to ride out the storm.
Martin County Commissioner Doug Smith said Monday that Jeanne left few buildings in his county unscarred because Frances had weakened them and subsequent rain connected to Hurricane Ivan had made the ground saturated. “Everything has been compromised to some extent,” Smith told NBC’s “Today” show. “We have lost a lot more structures this time.”
Rain sprayed sideways when Jeanne’s eye struck land. As it dragged across northern Florida early Monday, it had weakened to a tropical storm with top sustained wind near 50 mph.
At 5 a.m. EDT Monday, the center of the storm was about 40 miles east of Tallahassee. It was moving north-northwest near 12 mph.
About 50 homes in the Georgia community of Valdosta, in south-central part of the state, were evacuated early Monday because of flooding. Jeanne was dumping about 6 inches of rain on the area, according to the National Weather Service.
Georgia Power reported about 20,000 customers without power Monday morning. About 760 people stayed in the 24 Red Cross shelters had set up Sunday night, said Lisa Ray, spokeswoman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
President Bush declared a major disaster area in Florida while officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the hurricanes represented the largest relief effort in the agency’s history, larger than the response to the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, Calif.
“We just somehow have to get as much relief to them as possible to show them that we’re going to be right there with them, that we haven’t abandoned them,” said Brown.
More than 3,000 National Guard troops were deployed to aid relief efforts. Several counties, including Palm Beach and St. Lucie — two of the hardest hit by Jeanne’s winds and rain — planned to open distribution sites Monday morning, but the plans were contingent on water and ice supplies being delivered as scheduled by federal officials.
Charley was a faster storm when it hammered Florida’s southwest coast Aug. 13; Frances blanketed much of the peninsula after striking the state’s Atlantic coast Sept. 5; and Ivan blasted the western Panhandle when it made landfall Sept. 16. The three storms caused billions of dollars in damage and killed at least 73 people in Florida alone.
Jeanne was a Category 3 hurricane when it made landfall at Hutchinson Island, 35 miles north of West Palm Beach — almost the same spot that Frances struck. Once inland, the 400-mile wide storm stretched across the state, passing northeast of Tampa and moving east of the Panhandle. Officials at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said the similar paths of Jeanne and Frances were possibly unprecedented.
At least 21 Florida county school districts canceled classes on Monday, including St. Lucie County, which has not reopened since Frances struck.
At Cape Canaveral, the third hurricane to hit NASA’s spaceport in just over a month blew out more panels and left more gaping holes in the massive shuttle assembly building. The toll from the latest storm extended as far north as Daytona Beach and south to Miami, where one person was electrocuted after touching a downed power line.
On Monday morning, most counties in South Carolina’s northeast corner were under a flood watch, and the U.S. Weather Service placed much of southern Georgia under a tornado watch. Some school districts in both states called off classes Monday.
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