- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

ST. MARKS, Fla. (AP) — Tropical Storm Frances crowded into the Florida Panhandle yesterday, taking a second swing at the storm-weary state, where it already had knocked out power to 6 million people, torn up roofs and boats, and been blamed for at least seven deaths.

While Panhandle residents rode out the tropical storm’s heavy rain and wind blowing at a sustained 65 mph, shutters started coming down in the south and residents began returning to homes that they had evacuated.

The return revealed fresh hardship as motorists waited for gasoline in lines that stretched up to five miles, and others stood in long lines to get water, ice and other basic supplies. There was even a long line at a dump in Miami, where 25 cars waited to dispose of storm debris.

“We really hope to get ice and everything else. We don’t know what they have in there,” said Christine Bland, standing in line with about 1,500 other people at a Wal-Mart in Palm Beach County.

More than 3 million people remained without power last night.

President Bush, expected to survey the damage tomorrow, is asking Congress to approve $2 billion to help victims of Hurricanes Charley and Frances.

The core of the latter storm, once a powerful Category 4 hurricane before it slowed, slammed into the state’s Atlantic coast early Sunday. After crossing the state and a corner of the Gulf of Mexico, it made its second Florida landfall at St. Marks, 20 miles south of Tallahassee, early yesterday afternoon.

At 8 p.m., maximum sustained winds had dropped to near 40 mph.

Forecasters said Frances could bring up to 10 inches of rain and a 5- to 10-foot storm surge to the Panhandle. Four coastal counties ordered evacuations.

Linda Sellars worried about her property as she and her husband retreated inland from their home on a spit of land that sticks into the Gulf near Panacea.

“I worked the last three weeks in the yard,” she said. “I’m going to be really upset if it blows my yard away.”

Frances was moving north-northwest at about 8 mph, forecasters said, and was bound for Georgia and Alabama.

As Frances headed out of Florida, residents had started keeping a wary eye on another storm. Ivan, the fifth hurricane of the Atlantic season, had sustained winds of about 105 mph and was centered 250 miles east-southeast of Barbados.

Forecasters weren’t sure whether it would hit the United States, but Floridians are fed up after contending with Hurricanes Frances and Charley in the past month.

“This is ridiculous,” Anne Bruno said as flooding forced her onto a detour as she tried to drive back to Palm Bay from Sebring. “And we got another one coming? I’m staying home. No money, no gas and stuck inside with a mother-in-law for four days — no way.”

At a Florida Turnpike rest stop in West Palm Beach — one of the few places in the area with gas and power — a 5-mile line of motorists waited for fuel.

“It took a little while, but I’m glad to be here,” said Greg McCourt, who waited an hour to get gas for a trip to Georgia.

Airports in Tampa, Orlando, West Palm Beach and Key West reopened. As of midday, more than 73,000 people remained in shelters, down from about 108,000 on Sunday. The largest evacuation in state history had affected 47 of Florida’s 67 counties.

“I’ve gone through all these Florida storms without going to a shelter,” 100-year-old Gladys Swezey said after Gov. Jeb Bush paid a visit. “I find this quite disturbing — to make such a to-do out of a storm. In the old days, we’d just stay home and do what we can to keep the water out.”

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