Central Fla. cleans up as it boards up

Some fear the debris of Charley will fuel new hurricane's havoc

September 03, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - The lights that flickered out during the violent passage of Hurricane Charley only came back on a week ago, blue tarps still cover holes in many roofs and haphazardly uprooted trees litter the sides of many roads.

But Kissimmee has moved on from thinking about Charley to worrying about what could be a bigger, stronger storm - Hurricane Frances is moving inexorably through warm Atlantic waters on a path that could once again buffet this central Florida town with powerful winds and torrential rains.

Not since 1950 have two major storms struck Florida in such a short period of time. And Frances doesn't just pack 145 mph winds; it is vast - 1,000 miles across - wider than the state of Texas.

Just off the Main Street of this small town southwest of Orlando - the spring training home of the Houston Astros - Tom Lanier and two of his buddies spent yesterday afternoon hammering corrugated metal plates onto the front of Lanier's antique shop.

Lanier didn't take such precautions with Hurricane Charley, which roared in from the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 13, killing 27 people.

"We're scared to hell, so we're doing it," said Lanier, who has run businesses in the town for 25 years without having to worry much about the weather until Charley knocked one of his windows out. "Once we get this metal up here, it should take care of us."

"I figure the more work we put in, the better chance there is it will go the other way," added Lanier's friend Stan Harhalos, with the type of weary grin shown by so many yesterday.

Signs of Charley's punch lingered all over Central Florida yesterday. Forty-foot trees that had been snapped in two littered roadsides. A large plastic sign for Waffle House and Hollywood Video lay shattered like a glass dropped on the kitchen floor. Blue tarps covered large sections of houses that had been ripped away.

An exodus

Despite sparkling blue skies and a gentle breeze, the signs that Frances is coming were equally abundant, as more than 2.5 million coastal residents began fleeing inland before the storm's expected onslaught. Traffic choked roads headed north and west. Cars lined up 20 and 30 deep at the few gas stations that still had active pumps. One store owner had painted an image of a man pointing to his rear and saying, "Right here Frances" on the plywood covering his store window.

"It's been 30 years since the last hurricane, but nothing has ever devastated us to this extent," said Lanier's wife, Sharon. The Laniers own a house and four businesses in Kissimmee and estimated that they suffered as much as $75,000 in damage from Charley.

But Sharon Lanier spent yesterday afternoon in front of the couple's second antique store, smiling and chatting with passers by.

"We're all trying to tell each other we've got to keep going," she said.

One visitor to the store was Osceola County Commissioner Ken Shipley, who spent yesterday comforting his constituents, who suffered millions in damage from Charley.

Shipley said he's most worried about small tornadoes and flooding in connection with Frances.

"If it moves a little bit away from us, it won't hurt my feelings any," he said.

Down Main Street, Dale Revels' Kissimmee insurance office was leveled by Charley's winds, and he said he's worried that the new building where he has set up shop will be similarly devastated by Frances. Revels was one of many business owners having overhanging tree limbs removed yesterday.

`Like Noah's Ark'

But beyond the winds, Revels said he fears flooding from the 10-20 inches of rain many are forecasting. Unlike the swiftly moving Charley, Frances is expected to linger over the state for a full day.

"Downtown Kissimmee could be underwater," he said. "It could be like Noah's Ark here on Saturday."

Some Kissimmee residents said they were taking the storm in stride.

"It doesn't matter to me," said Matt Law, who owns a video game shop on Main Street. "That's what insurance is for."

Law said he appreciated Charley - or at least the insurance money attached to the storm - buying him a new roof and new carpet. He looked forward to Frances buying him a new counter.

He said he and his son endured Charley in the shop, playing computer games until the power went out. The evening was kind of fun, he said, even though the storm tore holes in his roof, damaged his wall and sent rain streaming inside. He anticipated waiting through Frances the same way.

"It's a break from the norm," he said. "A lot of people are getting stressed over this, but it's just material things."

Those who live closer to Orlando said they were equally tired of dealing with hurricanes, but like most Kissimmee residents, they said they had no plans to evacuate.

The storm is so enormous that its potential footprint covers nearly the entire state.

"I have water, I have batteries, and I have beer," said Linda Page. "What else do you need?"

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