Bush declares
major disaster

By WND Staff

President Bush has issued a major disaster declaration for five Florida counties, ordering the federal government to provide all necessary resources and assets to aid people victimized by Hurricane Frances, the second hurricane to strike the state in less than a month.

Water-vapor image as Hurricane Frances approaches Florida (photo: NOAA)

The counties affected by the declaration from north to south are Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach.

“President Bush knows that the people of Florida have been devastated by these storms and he remains committed to doing all he can to help aid and comfort them,” said Michael Brown, under secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response.

After several hours of sitting stalled off the coast of West Palm Beach, Hurricane Frances made landfall at Sewall’s Point, Fla., a small town just east of Stuart.

Radar shows eye of Hurricane Frances off St. Lucie and Martin counties (National Weather Service)

The slow moving storm, first spotted in the eastern Atlantic on Aug. 24, was expected to hit early yesterday morning, but its speed – both internal winds and forward movement – have changed dramatically in recent days.

The once-Category 4 storm was downgraded to Category 2, and it lumbered across the Bahamas at a speed often less than 5 miles per hour. Throughout most of today, it sat, nearly stationary, 40 to 60 miles offshore, battering eastern Florida with 90 mile per hour winds and heavy rains, causing power outages, property damage, and downing trees.

“The howling [wind] is like a 737, it’s unbelievable,” Martin County Commissioner Michael DiTerlizzi told WPBF-TV. DiTerlizzi was expecting food shortages at the local emergency operations center, and urged restaurants that might be able to help to contact it.

“We’re going to see a large swath of strong winds moving across the state,” warned Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center near Miami. “That means a lot of downed trees and massive power outages. Also, with that slow movement, we’re going to have a lot of rainfall and that’s going to cause widespread, very significant flooding.”

WPBF forecaster Mike Lyons urged area residents calling into the station to stay indoors as the storm strikes.

“You cannot leave your house and go outside. The risk is just too great,” Lyons said. “It’s going to be a rough night.”

Nonetheless, some die-hards who remained in the area were shown to be barbecuing amid the wetness. “Great day for it, huh?” said one Palm Beach County resident. “The food was starting to go bad, so we decided to cook it up.”

Gov. Jeb Bush has warned Floridians not to go outside as the eye passes over. Because of the storm’s slow movement, there is concern people could get caught outdoors when the back end of the storm comes through. “It could take about four hours for the eye of the storm to pass over you, so please don’t take that as a sign that all is well,” he said.

Rain amounts are forecast to reach 20 inches near the eye’s landfall.

“The threat from Hurricane Frances will continue to be very long in duration,” said Rusty Pfost, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service’s South Florida office.

A hurricane warning and flood watch remain in effect in South Florida, and forecasters are warning of the possibility of tornadoes.