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Recovery begins again after Florida's fourth hurricane

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- People lined up more than a half-mile for food and water, while others searched in vain for generators in the sweltering heat Monday as Florida residents began cleaning up all over again, demoralized by the fourth hurricane in six weeks to batter the state.

Hurricane Jeanne, with slashing winds reaching 120 mph, claimed at least six lives in Florida over the weekend as it plowed through virtually the same area that was bashed by Hurricane Frances earlier this month.

Together, Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne have generated the biggest relief effort ever undertaken by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"I've stopped trying to assess which storm is worse than the other," said Gov. Jeb Bush. "They are all powerful, they all wreaked havoc in our state and they all stink. They are all past the threshold of bad."

Florida is the first state to get pounded by four hurricanes in one season since Texas in 1886. Two months remain in the 2004 hurricane season.

At the only Home Depot in this coastal town, 75 people broiled under a cloudless sky in temperatures that approached 90 as they waited for tarps, gas cans and other supplies to begin repairs. In a separate line, 25 people waited for generators.

"My wife kicked me out until I came back with a generator," said Wayne Keller, who had a generator for Frances, but sold it once power was restored. "She wants to kill me. She's not in a laughing mood."

The store did not have any. Keller had been waiting four hours on the promise that a shipment of 300 was on the way.

The store itself was in need of repairs, had no air conditioning and was running on generator power. Only five people were being allowed in at a time, and buckets placed throughout caught water as it dripped from the ceiling.

In Fort Pierce's historic downtown area, power lines dangled and flooded roads were closed. Greg and Cindy Rosslow checked on the women's clothing store that has been in his family for two generations. The store lost its roof during Frances and still had not reopened. Jeanne smashed the front window.

"You get a little disheartened," Greg Rosslow said.

The unprecedented relief effort includes more than 5,000 FEMA workers spread over 15 states. Nearly 3,800 National Guardsmen were providing security, directing traffic, distributing supplies and keeping gas lines orderly.

In Florida alone, relief workers have handed out at least 16 million meals, 9 million gallons of water and nearly 59 million pounds of ice over the course of the four storms, state officials said.

Jeanne also inflicted more damage on two industries hugely important to Florida: citrus and tourism.

Florida citrus growers lost about half of their grapefruit crop during Frances. And with the ground soaked from previous storms, trees toppled more easily this time. Fruit was scattered throughout groves.

"It's a new layer of fruit on the ground. It couldn't be any worse," said grower Cody Estes.

Orlando's theme parks closed for the third time this season during Jeanne, and many hotels along the Atlantic coast were heavily damaged.

Earlier, Jeanne caused flooding in Haiti that killed more than 1,500 people. The storm weakened after plowing across Florida, but brought heavy rain and fierce wind to the already-soggy South.

At 5 p.m. EDT, Jeanne was a tropical depression centered north of Macon, Ga. It was heading north at 13 mph and was expected to move over the Carolinas.

Insured losses from Jeanne were estimated at $5 billion to $9 billion, insurance experts said.

About 2.3 million people in Florida had no electricity because of Jeanne. Nearly 47,000 people in the Panhandle were still without power in the area hit by Ivan.

Charley hammered Florida's southwest coast Aug. 13; Frances blanketed much of the peninsula as it crawled through Labor Day weekend; and Ivan blasted the Panhandle when it hit Sept. 16. The three storms caused billions of dollars in damage and killed 73 people in Florida alone.

Despite the destruction, some residents just see the string of storms as simply something that comes with living in Florida.

"I've lived in Florida all my life," Chris Cole said. "We've gone through a few of these. This is just one more."


Associated Press writers Deborah Hastings in Fort Pierce and Ron Word in Rockledge contributed to this report.


On the Net:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov


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