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Latest hurricane kills six in Florida
Updated: 2004-09-27 08:42

Jeanne, the fourth hurricane in six weeks in Florida of the USA, piled on destruction in already ravaged areas Sunday, slicing across the state with howling wind that rocketed debris from earlier storms and torrents of rain that turned streets into rivers.

At least six people died in the storm, which was a cruel rerun for many still trying to recover from earlier hurricanes. Jeanne came ashore in the same area hit three weeks ago by Hurricane Frances and was headed for the Panhandle, where 70,000 homes and businesses remained without power because of Hurricane Ivan 10 days earlier.

NOAA satellite image taken at 1415 EDT September 26, 2004 shows Hurricane Jeanne as the once-powerful storm weakened to a tropical storm while inland in Florida. Hurricane Jeanne peeled off roofs, snapped power lines and left large swaths of coastline knee-deep in water Sunday as it plowed through parts of Florida already scarred by Hurricane Frances three weeks ago. [Reuters]

The storm peeled the roofs off buildings, toppled light poles, destroyed a deserted community center in Jensen Beach and flooded some bridges from the mainland to the Atlantic coast's barrier islands. More than 1.1 million homes and businesses were without power.

"The last three weeks have been horrific," said Joe Stawara, owner of a Vero Beach mobile home park where about half the 232 trailers were damaged. "And just when we start to turn the corner, this happens."

An airplane sits upside-down at Martin County Airport in Stuart, Florida after Hurricane Jeanne battered the area September 26, 2004. [Reuters]

Until this weekend, no state had suffered a four-hurricane pounding in one season since Texas in 1886. And the hurricane season still has two months to go.

Rain blew sideways in wind that reached 120 mph when Hurricane Jeanne's eye hit land late Saturday night; by 8 p.m. EDT Sunday it had weakened to a tropical storm with sustained wind near 55 mph.

Roofs are damaged after Hurricane Jeanne hit Vero Beach, Florida September 26, 2004. [Reuters]

At least a foot of water rushed through some streets in Vero Beach, where a mattress floated through one neighborhood.

US President Bush declared a major disaster area in Florida. The hurricanes have prompted the largest relief effort in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's history, eclipsing responses for the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, Calif., and the 2001 terrorist attacks, director Michael Brown said.

"You're going to have some areas that have been hit once, twice and sometimes maybe three times," Brown said. "That's very frustrating, I know, for those who live in those communities."

Frances was larger, while Charley and Ivan were more powerful. But Jeanne was bad enough, once again sending the Sunshine State into a state of emergency.

Gov. Jeb Bush sought to reassure weary Floridians. "This will become a memory," he said. "This does come to an end, and when it does we can probably use the term 'normal' again."

Seawater submerged the bottom floor of condominiums on Hutchinson Island, where Josh Lumberson rode out the storm. The parking lot was under 5 feet of sand and water, and sand rose to the kitchen cabinets inside first-floor condos. The ocean, once 75 yards away, lapped at the foundation.

"It sounded like the whole building was coming down," Lumberson said. "You could hear every metal screw coming out of the walls."

As the wind subsided, the clang of metal siding could still be heard on the barrier island.

Jeanne made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane with winds of up to 120 mph just before midnight Saturday at Hutchinson Island, 35 miles north of West Palm Beach. Frances struck in almost the same spot.

Once inland, Jeanne's 400-mile diameter system trudged across the state, passing northeast of Tampa. It then headed toward the Panhandle, which was still recovering from Ivan.

Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, described the similar paths of Jeanne and Frances as perhaps unprecedented.

The toll from the latest storm extended as far north as Daytona Beach, where the famous beach was ravaged by erosion, and south to Miami, where one person was electrocuted after touching a downed power line.

Two people died when the sport utility vehicle they were driving plunged into a lake beside the Sawgrass Expressway south of Boca Raton. In Clay County southwest of Jacksonville, a 15-year-old boy died after being pinned by a falling tree Sunday.

In Brevard County, a man was found dead in a ditch in Palm Bay in what police called an apparent drowning. In nearby Micco, a 60-year-old man was found dead after a hurricane party at a home. He was found lying in water after the house had flooded; police said the death may be alcohol-related or the man may have drowned.

Jeanne's predecessors killed at least 70 people in Florida and caused billions of dollars in damage.

In St. Lucie County north of West Palm Beach, police rescued five families when the hurricane's eye passed over late Saturday, including a wheelchair-bound couple in their 90s whose mobile home collapsed around them, emergency operations spokeswoman Linette Trabulsy said.

In Rockledge, the Indian River overflowed its banks, lifting docks off their moorings carrying them into roads and yards.

Single-engine planes flipped over at Palm Beach International Airport. At Cape Canaveral, the third hurricane to hit NASA's spaceport in just over a month blew out more panels and left more gaping holes in the massive shuttle assembly building.

More than 3,000 National Guard troops were deployed to aid relief efforts.

But some residents acknowledged it could have been worse. Peirce Braun assessed the mess from the front yard of his bungalow.

"It's really not that bad," he said. "The worst thing in Florida is to be without the AC."

Among the areas left without power were much of Palm Beach County, population 1.1 million, and — for the second time in three weeks — all of Vero Beach.

With Jeanne dumping heavy rain, there was fear of flooding in the days to come from swollen rivers in east and central Florida, already saturated by two previous hurricanes.

In Sanford, a city near Orlando surrounded by lakes and rivers, a foot of water flowed down a scenic road that parallels Lake Monroe, and three-foot waves broke over the seawall that separates the lake from the historic downtown area.

State officials said 59,000 people, many with homes already damaged by Frances, rode out Jeanne in shelters.

At least one family will remember Jeanne fondly. An Indiantown woman gave birth at her home during the hurricane with help from 911 operators who offered instructions. The woman and her newborn son were doing well after being transferred by fire rescue personnel to a hospital.

By 8 p.m. EDT, Tropical Storm Jeanne was centered about 30 miles southwest of Gainesville, and was moving north-northwest near 13 mph. It was forecast to weaken into a tropical depression sometime Monday.

Earlier, Jeanne tore across the Bahamas, leaving some neighborhoods under 6 feet of water. The storm caused flooding in Haiti that killed more than 1,500 people.

Jeanne followed Charley, which struck Aug. 13 and devastated southwest Florida; Frances, which struck Labor Day weekend; and Ivan, which ravaged the western Panhandle when it made landfall in Alabama on Sept. 16.

Before Jeanne, FEMA had received more than 600,000 requests for aid from hurricane victims in Florida and throughout the eastern United States and disbursed about $360 million, Brown said. FEMA already has delivered millions of gallons of water, bags of ice and ready-to-eat meals to storm victims.

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