Floridians take soggy steps toward recovery

Coastal areas assess damage

waning storm hits panhandle

Out in Atlantic, Ivan stirs concern

In The Wake Of Frances

September 07, 2004|By Gail Gibson and Allison Klein | Gail Gibson and Allison Klein,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- Rain-weary residents dried out, cleaned up and surveyed the damage caused by Hurricane Frances' wide reach as the weakened storm took a second hit at the state yesterday, dumping more water and wind over the Florida panhandle before finally moving inland.

The lumbering storm, which battered Florida for much of the holiday weekend, knocked out power to as many as 6 million people and was blamed for at least four deaths. It ripped off roofs, destroyed luxury yachts, caused heavy damage at the Kennedy Space Center and left waterlogged suburban parking lots looking more like the Everglades than strip malls.

The storm's retreat did not put an end to the state's weather worries. Hurricane Ivan, the fifth storm of the season, was centered 435 miles east-southeast of Barbados yesterday with sustained winds of 105 mph and a potential path across the Florida Keys.

Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center said it was too soon to predict whether Ivan would touch Florida, which was struck by Hurricane Frances less than three weeks after Hurricane Charley left 27 people dead and $7.4 billion in damage.

Residents weren't taking any chances. In this coastal town just south of West Palm Beach, dog breeder Steve Lopes spent most of yesterday repairing fences torn by Frances. But with Ivan looming, he was not about to remove the hurricane-proofing at his home.

Officials had not tallied the losses from Hurricane Frances, but estimates ranged from $2 billion to $10 billion. The White House said that President Bush would tour hurricane damage in the state tomorrow and would ask Congress to approve $2 billion for "urgent needs" from the back-to-back storms.

Ice and chain saws

Up and down Florida's Atlantic coast yesterday, residents sought to meet their own urgent needs. Gasoline, water and ice topped the list. So did chain saws.

At the Flamingo convenience store in Lake Worth, a sweat-soaked John Beale stopped to buy a 40-ounce beer and a Smirnoff Twister. It was his first break from picking up the branches and shingles that littered his yard. He had paid $60 to hire someone to remove a huge tree that fell in front of his family's condominium.

The inside of his home, Beale said, was not much better. No electricity meant no air conditioning on what was a sunny, steamy Labor Day. Beale said his wife spent much of the day with their 17-month-old daughter in the bathtub to keep the toddler cool.

"I need a break," Beale said. "My house is a hot box."

Cashier Nick El Qadi said most customers yesterday were buying canned foods and chips. The store, which had no electricity, also was selling plenty of bottles of soda and water but had run out of bread and one other item in much demand:

"What everyone wants, we don't have -- ice," El Qadi said.

Authorities reported power outages in 57 of Florida's 67 counties, and public officials asked residents for patience as thousands of workers were deployed for storm repairs. About 15,000 utility crews were out restoring electricity, and BellSouth trucks were visible on the side of roads repairing broken phone lines.

Incidents of looting

The Florida National Guard brought in 8,000 troops, including Green Berets and veterans of Iraq duty, to assist in the aftermath. Some were cutting down trees; others were helping with security. Across the state, police reported 25 arrests for looting.

After battering Florida's eastern coastline for much of the weekend, the slow-moving storm crossed the state and the Gulf of Mexico before making its second landfall early yesterday afternoon at St. Marks, a wildlife refuge about 20 miles south of Tallahassee.

At one point a Category 4 hurricane, the storm was downgraded to Category 2 by the time it first reached land and to a tropical storm by the time it entered the Gulf of Mexico late Sunday.

Forecasters said it never regained hurricane strength, but it carried tropical storm winds of up to 65 mph yesterday, and forecasters said it could dump up to 10 inches of rain on the panhandle. Some areas of the state's Atlantic coast saw as much as 13 inches of rain.

Airports in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Palm Beach, Orlando and Tampa reopened, but the Tallahassee Regional Airport remained closed. Northbound Interstate 95 was partially reopened in Palm Beach County after a section of the highway along Florida's east coast was washed out.

In Cape Canaveral, the Kennedy Space Center took winds of more than 70 mph and suffered more damage than from any other storm in its history, authorities said. The vehicle assembly building lost about 1,000 exterior panels.

Though no space shuttles were inside the 525-foot-high building, space center Director James Kennedy said he feared the storm damage could hinder the hoped-for relaunch of the craft next spring.

The roof blew off a building where the thermal tiles that protect the spacecraft from the heat of re-entry are made and there was considerable water damage, he said.

At least four deaths in Florida were blamed on the storm, including a woman killed in her living room when an oak tree crashed onto her home. Also, the 15-year-old grandson and a former son-in-law of Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden were killed when their car hit a utility truck.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was prepared to distribute 1.5 million gallons of water and 1 million meals. Relief workers were prepared to offer the state help. William Keir, a Red Cross volunteer from Finksburg in Carroll County, was one of hundreds of volunteers at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport awaiting marching orders yesterday.

"We've been here waiting and eager to get down there for two or three days," said Keir, who expected to help local volunteers provide relief services to families. "I'm anxious and ready to go down and help."

The Associated Press and Sun staff writer Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.

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