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Frances Has Floridians on Edge

September 01, 2004|From Associated Press

MIAMI — A menacing Hurricane Frances gathered strength in the Atlantic on Tuesday, unnerving Florida residents still picking up the pieces weeks after Hurricane Charley flattened thousands of homes.

The prospect of another powerful hurricane had people stocking up on food, water and batteries and buying plywood and hardware to fortify homes and businesses. Long-range projections for Frances had it reaching the southeastern U.S. coast this weekend.

Frances was still several days from the U.S. mainland Tuesday, but its winds were almost as strong as those of Charley, which reached 145 mph as it slashed across the state from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic on Aug. 13.

"People are shaky about this. You've got to pay attention to these things. These are people killers," said Manny Fernandez, chairman of the University of Florida Board of Trustees and a resident of Sanibel, a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico where Charley hit.

State officials worried about finding hotel rooms and shelters for people who may have to be evacuated. Many hotel rooms in the southern half of the state are occupied by people Charley left homeless and emergency workers from other states.

But Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said they were ready.

"We have all the operations, all the resources that we need to respond to a major emergency," FEMA spokesman Justo Hernandez said.

Charley destroyed or heavily damaged more than 30,000 homes. It caused an estimated $7.4 billion in damage to homes, businesses and other property.

With Frances about 145 miles north of Puerto Rico, forecasts had it plowing through the Bahamas on Thursday or Friday before nearing the U.S. mainland. Large prediction errors mean that millions of coastal residents should be on guard, said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center.

"A hurricane is not just a point. It's a large circulation, especially in the case of Frances," he said. "It's going to affect a very, very large area wherever it makes landfall. Everybody from Florida up to the Carolinas needs to be very, very vigilant at this time."

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