Frances weakens to tropical storm
FORT PIERCE, Fla. – Hurricane Frances’ wind and water whacked swaths of Florida with fire-hose force Sunday, submerging entire roadways and tearing off rooftops before weakening to a tropical storm and crawling inland with heavy rain. More than 5 million people lost power, and two people were killed.
More than13 inches of rain fell along Florida’s central east coast, flooding some areas four feet deep, as a weakened Frances edged across the state toward Tampa and the Gulf of Mexico. In its wake, trees and power lines were leveled, broken traffic lights dangled and beachfront roads were littered with coconuts, avocados and tree limbs.
The roof at a school housing evacuees was partially blown off.
The scope of the enormous storm was evident Sunday as bands of rain and gusty wind extended the length of the state’s 430-mile east coast from the Keys to Jacksonville and beyond along the Georgia coast. It was expected to move into the panhandle today, then into Georgia and Alabama.
The storm was blamed for at least two deaths in Florida. In the Gainsville area, a man was killed when his car hit a tree, and a woman was killed in her living room when an oak tree crashed onto her mobile home.
There were two earlier deaths in the Bahamas, where thousands were forced from their homes.
Frances razed several mobile homes and made a mess of marinas, throwing dozens of pleasure boats against the shore or on top of each other.
Gov. Jeb Bush and 20 state and federal emergency officials surveyed damage Sunday as they flew from Tallahassee to West Palm Beach, but the governor said it was too early to assess the extent of the devastation.
Officials warned the aftermath could pose even greater risks. “There are still dangers on our streets where the hurricane passed,” Jeb Bush said. “Please be patient.”
President Bush talked to his brother on Sunday afternoon to assure Floridians that federal resources were in place to help respond, a White House spokesman said.
Some 8,000 members of the National Guard were assigned to recovery efforts. Suspected looters were arrested in Palm Beach, Orange and Indian River counties.
Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 145 mph, Frances slowed and weakened to a Category 2 storm as it neared Florida. Winds receded to a peak of 105 mph before it made landfall at Sewall’s Point, north of Palm Beach, around 10 p.m. PDT. One gust was clocked at 115 mph.
“We don’t know what all of our damage is yet, but we know it could have been a lot worse,” Martin County administrator Russ Blackburn said.
By Sunday evening, Frances had been downgraded to a tropical storm, with maximum winds near 65 mph and its center about 15 miles east of Tampa. The storm, which was crawling west-northwest at 8 mph, moved off Florida’s west-central coast late Sunday.