Hurricane's violent finish

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The violent remains of Hurricane Ivan pounded a large swath of the eastern United States on Friday, drenching an area from Georgia to Pennsylvania, washing out dozens of homes, sweeping cars down roadways and trapping more than 100 students at an elementary school.

The storm, which has killed 70 people in the Caribbean and at least 39 in the United States, retained its destructive power over land even as its wind speed dropped.

More than 8 inches of rain in some areas triggered deadly floods, hundreds of thousands of people were without power, and tornadoes were reported as far north as Maryland. Even after the storm was no longer a hurricane, it was responsible for the deaths of eight people in North Carolina, four in Georgia and one in Tennessee.

Shellshocked Floridians began to clean up Friday after their third hurricane pummeling in five weeks, while Alabamans looked at the crumbled condos and shattered beach homes along their coast and wondered how many months it would take for life to get back to normal.

The hurricanes have left virtually all of Florida a disaster area, and the recovery from Ivan has been complicated by widespread power outages, washed-out roads and bridges, and ongoing gas shortages. In some areas, emergency workers had to be flown in by helicopters, and authorities said it could take weeks to restore water, power and sewer services in parts of the hard-hit Panhandle.

More than 750,000 Alabama homes and businesses remained without power Friday afternoon, down from the state record 1.1 million power outages reported after Ivan roared through the state Thursday.

Heavy rain swelled creeks and spilled into roads in the Pittsburgh area, where there were reports of groups of people trapped on bridges. Carnegie's police chief became trapped on one bridge while attempting a rescue, said Dan Onorato, Allegheny County chief executive.

In the eastern Tennessee town of Spring City, rushing water from a creek cascaded through the business district, breaking out storefront windows, carrying away merchandise and leaving behind a muck of mud and debris.

"It's a complete disaster area," officer B.J. Neal said. "We've had homes completely destroyed. We've had homes washed in the lakes."

Heavy rain stranded about 150 students and employees at a southeastern Ohio elementary school, although emergency officials said the building was on high ground and out of danger.

About 100 children in West Virginia's northern panhandle also were forced to spend the night at their schools because of flooding.

More than 3,000 people in West Virginia were evacuated as mudslides and high water blocked roads and toppled trees. Some people were rescued by crews in helicopters and boats.

Dozens of tornadoes were sighted along the storm's path, in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. Several damaged homes and other buildings.

As much as 9 inches of rain fell in western North Carolina. The state Department of Transportation said nearly 200 roads were impassable in western counties, including Interstate 40 west of Asheville, which was closed after rain washed out the eastbound lanes.

In Florida, Ivan struck at a time when the state is still reeling from Hurricanes Charley and Frances. Charley ravaged the state's west coast five weeks ago, while Frances pounded the east over Labor Day weekend.

Much of the Florida Panhandle could be without power for weeks because of destroyed and damaged lines, poles and stations -- affecting everything from the delivery of water to the use of air conditioning.

Gov. Jeb Bush deployed about 2,000 National Guard troops. His brother, President Bush, was expected to visit the area Sunday -- the president's third trip to review hurricane damage in Florida.

"I would think that when they do the final assessment, this is like Charley but a bigger area," the governor said.

Exodus touches Cape

The storm is also responsible for an exodus of residents from Gulf Coast states as far north as Cape Girardeau in search of hotel rooms.

Wednesday morning it was broadcast on Memphis, Tenn., television stations that there were no more rooms available in Memphis and that storm victims should travel farther north or toward the Nashville, Tenn., area. Nashville hotels soon became completely full by day's end as were those in Dyersburg, Tenn., and Blytheville, Ark.

Blytheville hotels were mostly full because of steel mill shutdowns, and one hotel attendant at Best Western referred those storm victims who sought rooms to the Comfort Inn in Hayti, Mo.

The Comfort Inn in Hayti began to accommodate storm victims about 1 p.m. Tuesday, and within two hours reservations from victims still on the road, traveling north, caused the hotel to become completely full with 90 percent of the guests being storm victims, according to general manager B. Patel and manager Lindy Vaughn.

Patel and Vaughn said they had turned away more than 450 people by 8 p.m. Wednesday, but tried to find each of them rooms at other hotels as far north as Cape Girardeau.

"We did offer them hot coffee and cookies and a place to sit and rest a while, even though we couldn't rent them a room," Vaughn said.

Those from Alabama, Louisiana and Florida who made their way to Cape Girardeau have since returned home.

A spokesman for Drury Inns said that one person checked in at the Pear Tree Lodge to escape Hurricane Ivan, and a spokesman for the Victorian Inn said he saw several, but was unable to provide an exact number.

The Blytheville (Ark.) Courier-News and Southeast Missourian staff writer Linda Redeffer contributed to this story

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