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Jeanne Delivers More Misery

Fourth hurricane in six weeks hits Florida with 120-mph winds and pounding rain. At least six are killed and power is out for 2 million.

September 27, 2004|John-Thor Dahlburg and John M. Glionna | Times Staff Writers

STUART, Fla. — Storm-weary Floridians weathered their fourth hurricane in six weeks as Jeanne lashed the Sunshine State with 120-mph winds and torrential rains Sunday that turned neighborhood streets into muddy rivers, ripped roofs from trailers and knocked out power to 2 million homes and businesses.

So far, the hurricane is responsible for at least six deaths statewide, authorities said

Jeanne pulled a looping right turn over the Atlantic Ocean just days before making landfall late Saturday at Hutchinson Island, 35 miles north of West Palm Beach -- the same area hit by Hurricane Frances three weeks ago. For several furious hours, the Category 3 hurricane brought 20-foot-high waves that pounded a wide swath of Florida's east coast.

By 2 p.m., Jeanne had weakened to a tropical storm as it swirled west over central Florida's lowlands, bringing 5 to 10 inches of rain to areas already saturated by previous storms. It then passed south of Orlando before swerving north toward the Florida Panhandle -- where 70,000 homes and businesses remained without power after the battering delivered by Hurricane Ivan 10 days ago.

Jeanne was expected to pass through Georgia and South Carolina today.

"This storm is a heavyweight," said Joe Stawara, owner of the Fairlane Harbor Mobile Home Estates in nearby Vero Beach, where half the park's 232 trailers were damaged. Many lost roofs or had holes punched through their frames by the heavy winds.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 28, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
Storm map -- A map of Tropical Storm Jeanne's path in Monday's Section A mislabeled Arkansas as Texas.

"We've already endured so many storms, we feel like a ... boxer in the 15th round of a fight -- it doesn't take much to bring us down," Stawara said. "And Jeanne definitely packed a punch."

The hurricane, which killed 1,500 people in Haiti, also was blamed in the deaths of a Miami man electrocuted by a downed power line and a couple whose SUV plunged 40 feet into a canal south of Boca Raton. The body of another man was found floating in a Palm Bay ditch, while a 60-year-old man was found dead -- lying in water in his flooded home -- after drinking a lot of alcohol during a hurricane party, officials said. And not far from St. Augustine, a 15-year-old boy was crushed by a falling tree. More than 90 people in Florida have been killed by hurricanes since mid-August.

As residents huddled in homes and shelters, turning most central Florida communities into ghost towns, search and rescue teams in Martin and St. Lucie counties spent Sunday looking for homeowners who had decided to face the storm and had been left stranded by floodwaters.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had called for the evacuation of more than 2 million residents, but many -- weary after fleeing other storms -- threatened to ignore the order. By Sunday, 60,000 people, some of whose homes had been damaged by Hurricane Frances, had checked into shelters statewide.

But for some evacuees, safe harbor was hard to come by: In Melbourne, 120 people, many in wheelchairs and needing oxygen, were moved repeatedly after the roof twice blew off shelters where they were being housed. "I'm sure they were scared," said Yvonne Martinez, a Brevard County emergency response spokeswoman. "They bused them out at the height of the storm's fury."

In St. Lucie County, 117,000 people were without power Sunday, and county administrator Doug Anderson announced a 6 p.m. curfew for public safety reasons. "We're going to lock this county down tonight, because if we don't have any power, it's going to be very dark out there," Anderson said.

No power meant no stop lights, and drivers were told to treat all intersections as a four-way stop. Traffic lights dangled precariously Sunday, bobbing in the strong winds that scoured the area; some cables lay on the pavement.

Officials for Florida Power & Light, which serves 35 of the state's 67 counties, predicted that it would take days, and for some, weeks to restore power to customers spread across 22 counties.

"For some people, there's an outside chance that it will be three weeks from now before they get their lights back on," spokesman Bill Swank said. "Even though we knew this was coming, there's no way we could have prevented this disaster. Nature has a mind of her own.

"We just have to wait until she's through and then move in to clean up the mess."

In Fort Pierce, a city of more than 35,000, residents were without water service. And so much sand was piled up by Jeanne's storm surge on South Hutchinson Island's major oceanfront road that it will have to be plowed and removed like snow, Anderson said.

Visiting the Treasure Coast to see Jeanne's damage firsthand, Bush said that 3.5 million Floridians might be without power by the time the hurricane makes its way through the state. The governor said trucks were on the way north from Homestead, an Air National Guard base south of Miami, to supply Jeanne's victims with water and ice.

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