Florida bracing for third hurricane in Ivan; evacuations ordered in the Keys

Thursday, September 9th 2004, 7:21 pm
By: News On 6

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) _ Before Florida could catch a breath from a furious hurricane double-whammy, Keys residents were scurrying Friday under new evacuation orders as powerful Hurricane Ivan took aim at the state.

In South Florida, long lines reappeared at gas stations and shoppers swarmed home building stores and supermarkets to prepare for a possible third strike in a month _ forecasters said Ivan could slam Florida's narrow island chain as early as Monday. The state has not been hit by three hurricanes in a single season since 1964.

Gov. Jeb Bush said workers would redouble their around-the-clock efforts, even as they continued cleaning up after Hurricanes Charley and Frances. ``We're not worried about hurricane amnesia anymore,'' he said. ``We're worried about hurricane anxiety.''

Traffic was about double normal levels leaving the Keys on the Overseas Highway, the lone road link to the mainland, the state Department of Transportation said.

Laura Grace was leaning toward evacuating as she filled her gas tank and an extra container in Key West, but she wasn't sure she wanted to be anywhere in the state.

``None of Florida's going to be safe. You have to plan on driving 12 hours. But I'll do it to get out of this storm,'' she said.

The National Hurricane Center said Ivan could hit the Keys as a Category 4 hurricane, with top wind of 131 to 155 mph, as soon as late Monday, though there was still a chance the storm would instead move out into the Gulf of Mexico.

If it does strike Florida, Ivan would add to the state's already deadly and costly hurricane season. Charley, which hit Aug. 13, and Frances, which hit Sunday, killed at least 44 people and caused up to $20 billion in combined damage.

Both storms missed the Keys, however.

On Friday, Ivan carried sustained wind near 145 mph, down from 160 mph Thursday. The powerful hurricane has already killed at least 32 people in the Caribbean and drew a bead on Jamaica, where a half million people were ordered to flee their homes in the sprawling capital of Kingston.

At 2 p.m. EDT, Ivan was heading west-northwest at 12 mph, and was about 85 miles southeast of Kingston or 650 miles southeast of Key West.

``We've all been through this trilogy. It's no fun, but you do what you've got to do,'' said Jane Fry, who loaded supplies into her car in a Walgreens parking lot, en route to stay with friends in Lakeland.

Tourists and residents of mobile homes were ordered to evacuate the Keys on Thursday, the third such order in a month. Shelters were being set up at Florida International University in Miami. Monroe County's 79,000 residents were to begin leaving on a staggered schedule beginning at 7 a.m. EDT.

Twenty surgical patients were being flown from Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West to a hospital in Gadsden, Ala., said Nicki Will, the Keys hospital CEO.The hospital's other patients were being taken to a Miami hospital.

Elected leaders asked the public to support the American Red Cross and other charitable organizations. A Red Cross spokesman said the organization's relief effort for Charley was expected to cost about $50 million, and work on Frances relief could cost twice that.

About a million homes and businesses still lacked power in the state. In South Florida, many gas stations temporarily ran dry, as they had before Frances.

``We are in unprecedented, uncharted water where we are attempting to stage a recovery and prepare at the same time,'' said emergency operations spokesman Mark Esterly in Palm Beach County.

Bush said storage-tank supplies were significantly higher than before Frances, and ships are daily bringing more fuel to ports in Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa.

At a Home Depot in Deerfield Beach, homeowners pushed pieces of plywood on carts, maneuvering through a full parking lot. Debbie Albeck, 47, of Boca Raton, had a clear mission: ``Three things: plywood, plywood, plywood.''

``I'm prepared for the worst now,'' Albeck said.

Charley hammered southwest Florida with 145 mph wind, causing an estimated $6.8 billion in insured damage and 27 deaths. Frances hit the state's eastern coast with 105 mph wind, leaving $2 billion to $4 billion in insured damage and at least 17 dead in the state. Overall damage is estimated to be double the insured damaged.

After crossing the state, Frances moved into the Gulf of Mexico. It then hit the Florida Panhandle as a strong tropical storm before moving northward into the eastern United States, causing flooding and contributing to at least two deaths.

The Frances toll in Florida rose from 16 Friday when officials attributed another death to the storm, that of a 30-year-old man found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning from a portable generator in his room in Sebastian. His dog also died, and his girlfriend was hospitalized, police said.