Hurricane Jeanne appears on track to hit Florida's eastern coast by weekend

Thursday, September 23rd 2004, 9:29 am
By: News On 6

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Hurricane Jeanne trekked westward Friday on a path that could lead to Florida's east coast by Sunday, setting off another round of storm preparations in a state still reeling from three earlier strikes.

Jeanne could drop up to 10 inches of rain along its route, the weather service said, and fears of more flooding, flying debris and power outages sent shoppers scurrying to grocery and hardware stores for supplies that had run low before the last storms. State and federal officials geared up for another disaster response.

``I know people are frustrated, they're tired of all this,'' Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday. ``Trust me, their governor is as well.''

A hurricane watch was issued early Friday for most of the state's eastern coast, from Florida City to St. Augustine. A watch means hurricane conditions with wind of at least 74 mph are possible within 36 hours.

More than 350,000 people were asked to evacuate in three counties hit hard by Frances on Sept. 5, and crews along the state's coast worked to remove debris still remaining after that storm, though some said it was a losing battle.

``With another hurricane, there's just too much there _ we just don't have the manpower to get it all done,'' Martin County spokesman Greg Sowell said.

He estimated that nearly 80 percent of debris remained from Frances, and some streets had ``debris piled up 5 to 6 feet high.''

Jeanne could hit just over a week after Hurricane Ivan thrashed the Panhandle Sept. 16. Ivan and its predecessors, Charley and Frances, caused billions of dollars of damage and were blamed for at least 70 deaths in the state.

The only other time four hurricanes have been known to hit the same state in one season was in Texas in 1886, National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said.

An exasperated Margaret McFarlane of Greenacres, who was without power for 12 days after Hurricane Frances, found herself back at the store to stock up on water and food.

``We've already refilled our refrigerators, gotten the debris out of the streets and it's going to happen all over again. I'm not sure how much more people can take,'' she said.

At 2 p.m., Jeanne was centered about 455 miles east of Miami, moving west at 12 mph, the hurricane center in Miami said. The storm had 100 mph wind and could strengthen as it reaches warmer water closer to Florida's coast. Hurricane-force wind extended 45 miles from the center, and tropical storm wind extended 150 miles.

An eventual turn to the northwest was predicted, but it was unclear if that would happen before Jeanne reached Florida. Computer models showed possible landfall anywhere from South Florida to Cape Canaveral and then a path up the shore, meaning ``it's going to make an impact throughout the state,'' said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the hurricane center.

The Kennedy Space Center was closed Friday to all nonessential personnel, and the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers were considering changing the start time of Sunday's 1 p.m. game.

Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties _ also hit hard by Frances on Sept. 5 _ issued voluntary evacuations for more than 350,000 people living in barrier islands, low-lying areas and mobile homes Friday. Mandatory evacuations were expected Saturday morning.

Retiree Larry Ruby spent Friday morning patching holes in the roof of his mobile home on Hutchinson Island, as a bulldozer cleared Frances' debris.

``I was one of the luckier ones, but this time, who knows?'' Ruby said. ``I ain't going anywhere unless they make me. I don't think you can get away from it.''

Bush noted Jeanne could threaten during Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, which begins at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Saturday. During that period, observant Jews usually do not work or carry cash and many do not travel by car, which could hamper their storm preparations.

``We ask those who are keeping their faith and their strict Orthodox practices to prepare early,'' Bush said.

Jeanne was blamed for more than 1,100 deaths in Haiti, where it hit over the weekend as a tropical storm and caused major flooding. Parts of Florida are already waterlogged, and flooding could again be a major problem there.