- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2004

HUTCHINSON ISLAND, Fla. — Jeanne, Florida’s fourth hurricane in six weeks, yesterday piled on destruction in already ravaged areas, slicing across the state with howling wind that rocketed debris from earlier storms and torrents of rain that turned streets into rivers.

At least six persons died in the storm, which was a cruel rerun for many still trying to recover from the earlier hurricanes. Jeanne came ashore in the same area hit three weeks ago by Hurricane Frances and was headed yesterday for the Panhandle, where 70,000 homes and businesses remained without power because of Hurricane Ivan 10 days earlier.

The storm peeled the roofs off buildings, toppled light poles, destroyed a deserted community center in Jensen Beach and flooded some bridges from the mainland to the Atlantic coast’s barrier islands. More than 1.1 million homes and businesses were without power.

“The last three weeks have been horrific,” said Joe Stawara, owner of a Vero Beach mobile-home park, where about half of the 232 homes were damaged. “And just when we start to turn the corner, this happens.”

Until this weekend, no state had suffered a four-hurricane pounding in one season since Texas in 1886. The season will last two more months.

Rain blew sideways in wind that reached 120 mph when Hurricane Jeanne’s eye hit land late Saturday night; by 8 p.m. yesterday it had weakened to a tropical storm, with sustained wind near 55 mph.

At least a foot of water rushed through some streets in Vero Beach, where a mattress floated through one neighborhood.

President Bush declared Florida a major disaster area. The hurricanes have prompted the largest relief effort in the history of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, eclipsing responses for the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, Calif., and the September 11 terrorist attacks, agency director Michael Brown said.

“You’re going to have some areas that have been hit once, twice and sometimes maybe three times,” Mr. Brown said. “That’s very frustrating, I know, for those who live in those communities.”

Frances was larger, and Charley and Ivan were more powerful. But Jeanne was bad enough, once again sending Florida into a state of emergency.

Gov. Jeb Bush sought to reassure weary Floridians. “This will become a memory,” he said. “This does come to an end, and when it does we can probably use the term ‘normal’ again.”

Seawater submerged the bottom floors of condominiums on Hutchinson Island, where Josh Lumberson rode out the storm. The parking lot was under 5 feet of sand and water, and sand rose to the kitchen cabinets inside first-floor condos. The ocean, once 75 yards away, lapped at the foundation.

“It sounded like the whole building was coming down,” Mr. Lumberson said. “You could hear every metal screw coming out of the walls.”

As the wind subsided, the clang of metal siding still could be heard on the barrier island.

Jeanne made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane with winds of up to 120 mph just before midnight Saturday at Hutchinson Island, 35 miles north of West Palm Beach. Frances struck in almost the same spot.

Once inland, Jeanne’s 400-mile diameter system trudged across the state, passing northeast of Tampa. It then headed toward the Panhandle, which was still recovering from Ivan.

Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, described the similar paths of Jeanne and Frances as perhaps unprecedented.

The toll from the latest storm extended as far north as Daytona Beach, where the famous hard-packed beach was ravaged by erosion, and south to Miami, where one person was electrocuted after touching a downed power line.

Two persons died when the sport utility vehicle they were driving plunged into a lake beside the Sawgrass Expressway south of Boca Raton. In Clay County, a falling tree killed a 15-year-old boy.

In Brevard County, a man was found dead in a ditch in Palm Bay in what police called an apparent drowning. In nearby Micco, a 60-year-old man was found dead after a hurricane party at a home. He was found lying in water after the house had flooded. Police said the death might be related to alcohol or the man might have drowned.

Jeanne’s predecessors killed at least 70 persons in Florida and caused billions of dollars in damage.

In St. Lucie County north of West Palm Beach, police rescued five families when the hurricane’s eye passed over Saturday night, including a wheelchair-bound couple in their 90s whose mobile home collapsed around them, emergency operations spokeswoman Linette Trabulsy said.

In Rockledge, the Indian River overflowed its banks, lifting docks off their moorings, carrying them into roads and yards.

Single-engine planes flipped over at Palm Beach International Airport. At Cape Canaveral, the third hurricane to hit NASA’s spaceport in a little more than a month blew out more panels and left more gaping holes in the massive shuttle assembly building.

More than 3,000 National Guard troops were deployed to bolster relief efforts.

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