Two governors issue emergency orders; hurricane warning in place for Florida

| Friday, September 03, 2004

The governors of both Georgia and Florida have declared states of emergency in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Frances.

As of late Thursday afternoon The Associated Press reported that 2.5 million people were being evacuated in anticipation of the storm.

The Georgia order, issued Thursday, Sept. 2 by Gov. Sonny Perdue, is primarily a precaution designed “to prepare for possible damage and localized flooding, and to prevent price gouging of Georgians, and evacuated Floridians, in need of gas, food, lodging, and other supplies,” the governor’s office said in a statement. It lasts through Sept. 7.

The Florida order, issued Wednesday, Sept. 1, by Gov. Jeb Bush, is much more specific, because that state is more likely to bear the full brunt of the storm. It authorizes forced evacuations, already under way, and also authorizes local officials to reverse the traffic flow of highway lanes if necessary to evacuate residents before the storm hits.

Bush’s order also authorizes the state’s Department of Transportation to waive the collection of tolls, and to suspend size and weight restrictions on trucks carrying emergency equipment needed to cope with storm damage.

A similar order was already in place for trucks carrying equipment and supplies for the cleanup of damage from Hurricane Charley, which hit he state just two and a half weeks ago.

Bush’s order may last up to 60 days if necessary to aid the cleanup effort.

A hurricane warning was issued Thursday, Sept. 2, for the entire east coast of Florida by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Earlier in the day, NOAA placed the storm at 410 miles off the southeast Florida coast, moving toward the state at 13 mph.

As of mid-afternoon Thursday, Frances was listed as a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds at the center of 145 mph and hurricane-force winds – at least 74 mph sustained winds – in an area nearly 160 miles wide, NOAA 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. In addition, NOAA expects a storm surge of 6 to 11 feet above normal tide levels, with “large and dangerous battering waves” on top of the surge.

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, hitting the Atlantic side 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.

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

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