Remnants of Frances hitch a ride north

As Fla. continues mop-up, flood watches issued for Md. counties west of bay

September 08, 2004|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Remnants of Hurricane Frances moved north overnight, lugging a lot of rain and other baggage into Maryland and other states where residents thought they'd dodged the menace that ravaged Florida over the weekend.

Forecasters warned that Frances - now a tropical depression - could dump up to a month's worth of rain on the Baltimore-Washington area through tomorrow.

The storm could also bring unusually high tides to the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, flooding in other low-lying sections of Maryland, and a threat of flooding and mudslides to the Appalachians.

"We had some really nice weather there for a couple of weeks," said National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Guyer. "Unfortunately, that's over."

Floridians were well rid of Frances, but the hurricane's extended visit and the slow pace of recovery have taken their tolls. There were signs yesterday that residents' patience was beginning to fray.

Thousands desperate to return home ignored official pleas to wait another day. They jammed highways, delaying emergency workers and causing tempers to flare in the humidity and 90-degree heat.

Fights broke out in St. Lucie County. Drivers waited for hours to fill up their gas tanks.

Keeping eye on Ivan

As the cleanup accelerated, storm-wary Floridians watched the predicted tracks for another hurricane - Ivan - that was pounding the Windward Islands, 1,600 miles to the southeast, with winds up to 120 mph. It was too soon to say whether the powerful new storm would reach the U.S. mainland.

President Bush planned to survey the damage in Florida today and has asked Congress to approve $2 billion to meet the "urgent needs" caused by the storms.

About 3 million electric customers were told that it could take up to a week to restore power to all of them.

"Everyone's hot. ... Everyone's tossing and turning. The kids keep crying. I can't take no more of this," said Maria Sanchez, 26, who waited more than 90 minutes with her four children to get supplies in Stuart, north of West Palm Beach.

Florida's unwelcome guest, meanwhile, was hitching a ride north and east along a cold front that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Ohio River Valley. The storm's center was expected to follow the spine of the Appalachians toward Pittsburgh, passing well west of the I-95 corridor.

Even so, 2 to 4 inches of rain were forecast for the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan areas through tomorrow, Guyer said, with 3 to 5 inches likely west of the Blue Ridge. The rain and thunderstorms, some of them heavy, were due to begin early this morning.

Possible mudslides

"The impacts for the metropolitan areas will be some small stream flooding, some urban flooding," Guyer said. "Over the Blue Ridge there will be more moderate flooding, even possibly some mudslides, some small-river and stream flooding."

The weather service issued flood watches yesterday for all Maryland counties west of the Chesapeake Bay - pieces in a mosaic of Frances-related watches and warnings posted from Florida to New York state.

Bayshore neighborhoods in Anne Arundel and Harford counties were told to watch for high tides 1 to 2 feet above normal, with minor coastal flooding as the storm's east winds blew bay water toward the Western Shore.

At the ocean, forecasters said, the onshore winds will build heavy surf, with 3- to 5-foot breaking waves. Dangerous rip currents could develop near inlets, jetties, piers and sandbars.

Much of Central Maryland could use the rain. Since Aug. 18 only 0.1 inch of precipitation has fallen at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Lawns are brown, and Baltimore's reservoirs have slipped a few feet below their brims for the first time since May 2003.

Arrival of the cold front on Friday should bring back sunny skies and highs near 80 degrees.

Wire services contributed to this article.

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