Saturday, September 4, 2004
‘The storm is on the horizon’
By DINAH VOYLES PULVER | News-Journal Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH — After a frantic three-day rush to get ready, Floridians can do little now but watch and wait as Hurricane Frances creeps agonizingly closer.
Sheila Reed, a Registered Nurse at Halifax Medical Center, takes a break to walk her dogs Tito, left, and Bandit, at the hospital Saturday morning, September 4, 2004. Employees of the hospital, their families and pets have been permitted to stay at the hospital during Hurricane Frances. (Photo: News-Journal/Kelly Jordan)
The dangerous storm mystified forecasters Friday as it lost some of its intensity and looked ragged. But it also turned a bit north and became a bigger threat for East Central Florida, bringing prolonged rain and wind.
Grappling with Frances only three weeks after Hurricane Charley is "testing us all," said Gov. Jeb Bush.
As of late Friday, Frances was packing 115-mph winds at its center and hurricane-force winds 85 miles out. But, that doesn't make it any less deadly, said Craig Fugate, director of emergency management for Florida.
As Frances' first rain bands started hitting South Florida, the storm's forecast track moved a bit north bringing the possibility of higher winds closer to this area. Tropical storm-force winds — 39-74 mph — are expected to begin moving into the area by mid-morning. Gusts of up to 75 mph or more are expected through Sunday morning.
There’s still a large margin of error in the forecast.
The warmest water, which could help the storm strengthen, lies between the Bahamas and the Florida coast.
Two of the biggest dangers with Frances are storm surge and flooding. The hurricane could drop 7 to 12 inches of rain, possibly more.
“We have not seen this type of rainfall spread across the state in decades,” state meteorologist Ben Nelson said Friday. Some areas could experience hurricane-force winds for 12 hours.
More than 2.5 million people from 21 counties in Florida are under at least partial evacuations, including Volusia and Flagler counties for residents east of the Intracoastal Waterway and in mobile or manufactured homes. As the storm approaches, the Volusia County evacuation may be expanded to include all low-lying areas.
Many curfews are in effect for evacuated areas. In Volusia, the curfew is from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. The curfew in Flagler is in effect for the barrier islands from 6 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Monday.
The curfews, Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson said, are not to punish the people who live in evacuated areas. “It’s to keep people out who don’t belong there. It’s to protect the property of people who live there and businesses.”
Violators of the curfew are subject to a $500 fine and six months in jail, Johnson said.
Residents in evacuated areas will be required to show identification with their names and addresses at law enforcement checkpoints.
Anyone still thinking about riding out the storm on a barrier island should think again, said Jim Ryan, Volusia County emergency management director. Drive as short a distance as you can, Ryan said.
The storm surge is a very dangerous situation and still could be 8 to 10 feet, Ryan said. The surge comes from the rising ocean pushed by the pressure and winds from the storm. He said low-lying areas near the shore fill up first.
It’s imperative people move out of mobile homes and the beachside, officials said.
“When we have a hurricane approaching we want you to get out of that storm surge area because there’s no place you can run from that water,” Ryan said.
“We don’t want a loss of life because some people didn’t evacuate,” Sheriff Johnson said. “We’re not going to force somebody out but we’ll ask them who their next of kin is.”
The bridges to the islands will be closed to the public once the winds reach 40 mph and emergency vehicles won’t cross once the winds reach 55 mph.
Some shelters filled quickly within hours of opening Friday. Nearly 100 shelters in Florida had nearly 6,000 evacuees by 9 a.m.
By 3 p.m. Friday, more than 4,600 residents were in shelters in Volusia and more will open today.
More than 100 people were housed in three shelters in Flagler Friday afternoon.
Volusia residents also are being allowed to go to Seminole County shelters. A few shelters also have opened in Georgia and South Carolina for fleeing residents.
Elsewhere in Florida, 29 of 67 counties had no school Friday and 14 hospitals were evacuated to other locations.
The biggest challenge for Floridians was finding gas. “That probably is the No. 1 issue,” Bush said.
Flights are canceled for today and Sunday at Daytona Beach International Airport. Airline officials said they would assess the situation on Sunday afternoon to determine when flights would resume. Most airport businesses are closed and will reopen when the airlines resume. Flagler County Airport manager Jim Jarrell said the airport is ready for whatever Frances dishes out. “We’re locked up pretty tight,” he said.
Meanwhile, because the storm is taking so much longer to arrive, evacuated residents are going to be in shelters a little longer than originally planned, Ryan said.
Evacuees were being urged to take plenty of personal supplies and things to “occupy their time.”
The lull before the storm left residents with nothing to do this weekend except wait. Beach Patrol officers forced would-be beachgoers from the coast Friday. Movies and restaurants were closed. Grocery stores were packed.
Dwight Lewis, chairman of the Volusia County Council, urged residents not to feel a false sense of security.
“When you look out and see the sunshine, don’t forget this storm is on the horizon,” Lewis said. “It’s still a bad storm and we are going to get some of its effects. Stay vigilant. Stay tuned to the media.”
Staff Writers Ron Koch, Jim Saunders, Jim Haug and Aaron London contributed to this report.
What you need to know
All post offices in areas in ZIP codes beginning with 321 will suspended all retail and delivery services at close of business Friday. They will reopen Tuesday, Sept. 7. For more information about mail call (800) ASK-USPS for updates on post offices.
The Homeless Assistance Center and Halifax Urban Ministries are closed and won't reopen until after the storm.
Votran will continue to stop today ) at its regular bus stops and provide free rides for the homeless and others for free to a transport station and then to the closest shelter. Service will stop once winds hit 40 mph and will resume after the wind dies down and roads are deemed safe for travel.
Most oxygen suppliers will not deliver oxygen when winds are more than 40 mph. Oxygen patients whose supplier is unable to reach them can go to fire stations in Port Orange and Deltona to get their tanks refilled. Discussions are under way to provide another refilling station at a southeast Volusia fire station.
The Salvation Army has closed its Ballough Road shelter and will not reopen until sometime next week due to fears about flooding and the building's age. The army will be dispatching mobile canteen units from Tampa to wherever they are needed after the storm.
The American Red Cross is staging equipment and supplies outside the projected impact areas to bring in after the storm. Depending on the impact, mobile units will be available to provide food and other supplies similar to Hurricane Charley. The agency encourages families to have a communication plan that includes where to meet if they are separated as well as establishing a point of contact inside and outside the affected area.
Under an agreement with Volusia County, Black Crow radio stations and WCEU-TV public television are the official emergency public information stations during Hurricane Frances, broadcasting information and instructions from the county’s Emergency Operations Center.
HICI Special Report — Wild Weather: Staying Safe amid Danger and Disaster