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|Cat 4 Frances Packing 180-Mile Path|
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|Posted by:||Sep 1st 2004, 07:53:41 pm|
|Fig Tree News Team||Strong Hurricane Approaches Bahamas, Florida
6:00p EST 1 September
By Jim Loney
MIAMI (Reuters) - Hurricane Frances barreled toward the Bahamas islands with 140 mph winds on Wednesday, a growing threat that put millions of people on alert along Florida's heavily populated east coast.
The large, powerful hurricane menaced Florida as the state struggled to recover from Hurricane Charley three weeks ago, and revived memories of Andrew, the costliest hurricane in U.S. history that ravaged the Miami area 12 years ago.
Frances was a Category 4 on the five-step scale of hurricane intensity and was much larger in diameter than Charley.
"It will likely have an impact over a much, much larger area," said Max Mayfield, director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center (news - web sites). "If it remains a Category 4 hurricane, it certainly will cause extreme damage."
Florida's Palm Beach County issued notice to about 300,000 people that they should be ready to evacuate mobile homes, barrier islands and flood-prone areas. Other counties prepared for evacuations, and southeast Florida schools, courts and government offices closed as of Thursday.
"This is the time to fill your cars with gas, to begin the process of protecting your homes or apartments, to purchase supplies of water and batteries," Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said.
He declared the state a disaster area to speed aid after the storm hits. Some 3,000 federal emergency workers were still in Florida cleaning up after Hurricane Charley, and many could themselves be forced to evacuate.
SCARED AND PRAYING HARD
Cotton and orange juice prices rose on fears of havoc in key U.S. growing areas. Damage from Frances would hit Florida's $9.1 billion citrus industry hard, after Charley uprooted trees and stripped fruit across the state.
The storm was battering the Turks and Caicos, a tiny British colony of 20,000 people, on Wednesday. Next in line was the Bahamas, a chain of 700 islands that are home to 300,000 people and stretch from north of Haiti to Florida.
"We are scared. We are all praying hard. We trust in the Lord for all things," said Rev. Robert Black, the 82-year-old pastor of a tiny Baptist church in Pirates Well, Mayaguana, the first Bahamian island in the path.
Islanders stocked up on water, candles, food and other emergency supplies. Businesses and houses were boarded up. Work crews lopped branches and coconuts from trees.
Flights in and out of the Bahamas were curtailed, cruise ships switched routes to avoid the hurricane, and Nassau's Princess Margaret Hospital called for blood donations.
A warning that hurricane conditions could be expected within 24 hours was in effect for the Turks and Caicos and most of the Bahamas.
At 5 p.m. EDT, the center of Frances was about 35 miles north of Grand Turk Island and 650 miles east-southeast of the Florida coast, at latitude 22 north and longitude 71 west, the National Hurricane Center said.
It was moving to the west-northwest at 15 mph but was expected to slow over the next 24 hours, forecasters said.
The hurricane center's long-range forecast, which has a large margin of error, had the storm in the central Bahamas by early Friday and near the central Florida shoreline by early Saturday.
But forecasters reminded Floridians of Charley's last-minute course change three weeks ago. It went ashore hours farther south and earlier than predicted, catching some people off guard in fragile mobile homes.
Charley caused about $7.4 billion in insured losses, the second-highest hurricane damage toll in U.S. history behind Hurricane Andrew's $25 billion tab in 1992.
The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area, Florida's most heavily populated region with more than 5 million people, was a possible target.
(Additional reporting by John Marquis in Nassau, Rene Pastor in New York, Michael Peltier in Tallahassee and Jane Sutton in Miami)
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