Evacuations under way as second hurricane bears down on Florida; storm likely to hit this weekend

| Wednesday, September 01, 2004

As workers continue the cleanup from Hurricane Charley, a second storm – just as powerful – is headed toward Florida, with forecasters predicting it could make landfall by Friday or Saturday.

Residents were already being urged to evacuate areas that could potentially be affected by Hurricane Frances, The Associated Press reported. The state Emergency Operations Center said in a statement that all Florida residents should have their family hurricane preparedness plans ready now, and be prepared to implement them in the event they are asked to do so by local emergency management officials.

Hurricane Frances is currently listed as a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds at the center of 140 mph and hurricane-force winds – at least 74 mph sustained winds – in an area nearly 160 miles wide, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in a storm warning. Tropical storm force winds extend across an area up to 370 miles wide.

Forecasters have said that Frances could morph into a Category 5 storm, which would mean it would have sustained wind speeds of at least 156 mph.

The storm could bring massive wind damage and potentially deadly flooding to an area already damaged and soaked by the previous storm, which hit the state with 145 mph winds Aug. 13. That storm, which came in from the western, Gulf of Mexico side of the state, crossed the center of Florida, emerging somewhere around Daytona Beach. Frances is approaching from the southeast, having passed near Puerto Rico, and forecasters think it could hit the state anywhere between Miami and the Georgia border.

A hurricane warning is already in effect for the central Bahamas. That means the storm could hit there anytime within the next 36 hours. Tropical storm warnings are posted across the Caribbean, reaching from the Dominican Republic to Punta Gorda in Florida.

Earlier today, NOAA placed the storm at 700 miles off the southeast Florida coast, moving toward the state at 15 mph.

If Frances does hit Florida, it would be the first time two major storms have struck the state in one hurricane season since 1950.

If Frances does pass, relief workers will likely be looking for help from truckers with the next, likely even larger cleanup. The Red Cross is still helping residents and businesses clean up from Charley, and has been asking truckers for help.

Amanda Lephof, who works in the in-kind donations office of the American Red Cross, says truckers should e-mail her at lepofa@usa.redcross.org if they can help.

Because of the scale of the storm damage, the Red Cross has limited personnel and is unable to handle a flood of phone calls, so officials ask that when requests for help go out, truckers call only if they have the equipment requested, can run the routes available and can leave their trailers. The relief agency says they will inform Land Line of additional routes as the relief effort moves forward.

In addition, because of the volume of contacts, Lephof says the organization prefers e-mail contacts and will be able to respond faster to those messages. If truckers do not have e-mail access, they can call (202) 303-4596.

Truckers can also help by donating money to the effort. To donate, call the Red Cross at 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669).