Florida takes new thrashing
After three storms, many residents were ready for Jeanne, but others were blasé.
WEST PALM BEACH, FLA.
For Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, there had been a sense of déjà vu as the weekend arrived, a sense that somehow he had been here before. "I feel like I'm Bill Murray in 'Groundhog Day,' " he told reporters, referring to the film in which one man lives the same day over and over again.Skip to next paragraph
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As the state emerged from yet another hurricane Sunday, its fourth in six weeks, Governor Bush's words seemed to sum up the sentiments of a population badly bruised by one of the most active storm seasons on record.
It wasn't just hurricane Jeanne's 120-mile-per-hour winds that made it so cruel, tearing holes in houses, driving the sea through oceanfront homes, and leaving more than 1 million people without power.
It was the fact that Jeanne came ashore at almost exactly the same point as hurricane Frances three weeks before, making landfall at Hutchinson Island, near Stuart, Saturday night. That meant a double whammy for residents of Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, Palm Beach, and Brevard counties, where thousands already struggling from Frances endured hardship once more.
"It just doesn't stop," said Stuart's mayor, Jeff Krauskopf, who believes people are exhausted and exasperated. "It's like that song: Frances to the left of me, Ivan to the right, and Jeanne, I'm stuck in the middle with you."
Flashes from electrical transformers lit up the sky like blue lightning, and so fierce were the gusts in Stuart that two drawbridges across the inland waterway were blown open. In Jensen Beach, the historic community center collapsed, and in Melbourne, a shelter for 400 people with special needs had to be evacuated during the storm after the roof lifted.
Jeanne had already inflicted destruction on Haiti a week ago as a tropical storm, killing at least 1,500 in floods. By the time it reached Florida, Jeanne had strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane - and was bringing Florida the unwelcome distinction of being America's biggest storm punching bag 118 years.
"To have four hurricanes in one state within six weeks is almost unheard of. It happened back in Texas in 1886, but it hadn't happened since," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
On the one hand, the procession of hurricanes left residents more prepared this time around. Many still had their shutters up from Frances, or they at least knew how to put them up this time. Pantries were already stocked, and flashlights, batteries, and tarpaulins were ready.
But officials believe that hurricane fatigue also made some people blasé. As the storm approached, Bush held up a front-page newspaper report on the death and destruction wreaked on Florida's panhandle by hurricane Ivan 10 days ago, reminding residents what they were dealing with. "This is serious, serious business," he urged.
Even so, many defied evacuation orders, including 200 residents on Hutchinson Island. At least one of them, it seemed, may have regretted their decision: At the height of the storm, a car was seen careening through the guardrail of the causeway that connects the island to the mainland and dropping into the intracoastal waterway. No further news was known as of press time.