Slow-motion Frances plods across Florida

Hurricane Frances slowly moved across Florida early Sunday amidst fears of devastating record floods.


"We're looking at a record event."

—Dennis Decker, National Weather Service

A very slow moving Hurricane Frances slogged across the Florida coast Sunday morning, after battering coastal communities throughout the day Saturday.

The eye crossed the coast near West Palm Beach Saturday night and early Sunday morning. It was the first hurricane to hit Palm Beach County communities in more than 25 years.

The predicted track will take the storm across much of the same portions of Florida devastated by Hurricane Charley less than a month earlier.

State officials warned the hurricane could take more than a day to cross Florida with tropical and hurricane force winds and torrential rains. According to Florida Power & Light (FPL) more than one million customers had lost power state-wide by Saturday night.

But it is the potential of 100-year-like flooding that is keeping disaster responders from Florida to North Carolina on edge.

"We're looking at a record event," warned Dennis Decker, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Melbourne, FL.

According to the National Hurricane Center, torrential rains are likely as the hurricane slowly lumbers across the state Sunday. Cloud cover from the storm is nearly as large as the state of Texas and tropical force winds extend across a 250-mile area. The slow speed and the size of the storm is expected to combine to create serious flooding.

“Locally there’s the potential of 19 to 20 inches in the center part of (Florida),” said Greg Romano, spokesperson for the National Hurricane Center.

Storm water management systems in most modern suburban neighborhoods are designed to handle approximately seven inches of rain in a 24-hour period. Emergency officials warned many people who have never had flooding problems may experience floods as a result of Frances. "And unfortunately," said Bob Howard, operations director for the South Florida Water Management District, "some areas may be totally under water for quite some time."

Romano said as the hurricane moves north, Alabama and Georgia will see potential rainfalls totaling between seven and eight inches as well.

That has Bob Tribble keeping an eye on the flood-prone areas of the Georgia. Tribble, coordinator of Lutheran Disaster Response in Georgia, said localized flooding may also be an issue in the mountainous areas of northwest Georgia. “We’ve been in touch with our folks, but right now everyone is on hold and waiting.”

The current predicted path of Hurricane Frances could also take it into Alabama as well. Eldon Zimmerman, coordinator of Lutheran Disaster Response in Alabama, is also waiting and watching flood-prone sections of the state.

The city of Birmingham suffers from frequent floods, he said, since five creeks run through it. He added that the cities like Dothan in the southeast corner of the state are a concern as well. “It just takes a heavy rain there to flood.”

Zimmerman was in Mobile recently to check on preparations. He said they’re also just waiting and watching, but that everyone is as prepared as they can be at this point.

The size of the hurricane's eye is also worrying officials who fear residents will try to return home before it is safe to do so.

George McNeill, based in Clearwater, is the disaster relief coordinator for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in Florida. Most Florida residents, he believes, will stay out of harm's way.

"I take this very seriously, I wouldn't dare come back yet and the rest of Florida is like that too. They know what they should be doing. This thing is the size of Texas."

Heather Moyer contributed to this story.

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