- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 25, 2004

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — About three-quarters of a million residents of Florida’s east coast were urged to evacuate — again — as Hurricane Jeanne churned westward yesterday and threatened the state with a fourth pounding in six weeks.

The storm, with 100-mph winds, could come ashore somewhere on the state’s Atlantic side tomorrow, targeting some of the same areas hit by previous storms and potentially turning piles of still-uncleared debris into deadly missiles.

“I’m not staying in this bunch of junk,” 76-year-old Ed Oglesby said as he patched his torn roof in a Hutchinson Island mobile home park still littered with twisted metal and insulation from homes wrecked by Hurricane Frances.

A single state hasn’t been hit by four hurricanes in a single season since Texas in 1886. Jeanne could continue a devastating run that has thrashed Florida’s Panhandle (Ivan), southwest coast (Charley) and the state’s midsection (Frances).

Together, the three storms caused billions of dollars of damage and at least 70 deaths in the state.

“I know people are frustrated, they’re tired of all this,” Gov. Jeb Bush said yesterday. “Trust me, their governor is as well.”

Crews with bulldozers worked yesterday to clear the mess of flattened homes, torn roofs and snapped trees left over when Frances tore through the heart of the state earlier this month. But many acknowledged 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,” coastal 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.”

Pam Custis shed tears yesterday as she looked at a heap of smashed furniture and flooded carpets in front of her Fort Pierce condominium, which has been stripped to a skeleton of concrete floors and metal frames. The debris pile was as tall as she is.

“This is all we have left,” she said of her condo’s shell. “When this other hurricane comes, this pile is going to be knocking down the rest of it.”

Eight counties along about 300 miles of coastline issued evacuation orders for residents on barrier islands, low-lying areas and mobile homes. That includes more than 750,000 people.

But, with almost the entire state in Jeanne’s danger zone and a hurricane warning stretching from Miami-Dade County in the south to St. Augustine in the north, some questioned whether there was any safe place to go.

“I ain’t going anywhere unless they make me,” retiree Larry Ruby said as he patched the roof of his Hutchinson Island mobile home. “I don’t think you can get away from it.”

Jeanne, already blamed for at least 1,100 flooding deaths in Haiti, looked earlier this week like it had turned north and safely out to sea, but it whipped around in a loop and headed straight for Florida.

At 8 p.m. yesterday, Jeanne was centered about 355 miles east of the southeast Florida coast and moving west at 12 mph. Forecasters said it could strengthen as it reaches warmer waters closer to Florida.

An eventual turn to the northwest was predicted, but it was not clear when that would happen, and some models show the storm strafing the East Coast all the way up to North Carolina by Tuesday.

Rainfall totals of 5 to 10 inches were expected in the storm’s path and flooding could be a major concern because previous hurricanes have already saturated many canals, rivers and lakes.

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

Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties — also hit hard by Frances on Sept. 5 — issued voluntary evacuation warnings for more than 350,000 people living on barrier islands, in low-lying areas and mobile homes yesterday. Mandatory evacuation orders are expected this morning.

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