AL, GA may be next stopfor slow-moving Frances

Even as Hurricane Frances continued to plow through Florida Sunday afternoon, federal officials were warning people in southwest Georgia and throughout Alabama they may be in the storm's path.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | September 4, 2004

"Flooding will be a major factor."

—Kevin Smith, Salvation Army

Even as Hurricane Frances continued to plow through Florida Sunday afternoon, federal officials were warning people in southwest Georgia and throughout Alabama they could be in the storm's path.

"Frances could re-strengthen into a Category 1 storm - I wouldn't be surprised - when it moves out into the Gulf, then hits southwest Georgia and Alabama," said a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official.

Frances could also bring "heavy rains into Mississippi and Alabama and north to the Ohio Valley," according to FEMA. "All along the path there is the high probability of second- and third-order rain, flooding, and 'slide' events."

Emergency management officials in Alabama were warning residents they could see 10 inches of rain in some areas, with the heaviest rainfall expected along the Georgia-Alabama state line. So far state emergency management officials indicated they did not expect widespread evacuations.

Meanwhile FEMA crews were already moving into Homestead, FL, Sunday afternoon to set up for damage assessment. The FEMA disaster field office in Orlando was closed and will reopen either Monday or Tuesday.

Miami-Dade County told about 320,000 people they could return home Sunday, but more than 80,000 people - 4,800 of them with special needs - were still in shelters statewide Sunday afternoon.

Responders reported stress was high among residents in shelters, and the Florida Department of Child and Family Services indicated it was sending mental health counselors into shelters.

About 2 million people were without power on Sunday afternoon, said the FEMA official.

President Bush has already declared Florida counties affected by Frances federal disaster areas.

While Hurricane Frances left significant damage in its wake, the catastrophic level of destruction anticipated by some in Florida may not transpire, said Jody Hill, head of Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster.

"In some areas it's not going to be as big an impact as we feared," she said. But the National Weather Service advised that flooding could become more extensive and significant through Sunday, with up to 13 inches of rain or more falling in some local areas.

"Flooding will be a major factor," agreed Kevin Smith, disaster services director for The Salvation Army in Florida.

And there will definitely be structural damage to deal with, and debris to clean up, added Hill.

The real extent of damage will be difficult to determine until the slow-moving storm passes through, said Florida state emergency management officials.

Hurricane Frances made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane at St. Lucie, Florida. The eye of the hurricane moved ashore late Saturday night.

Hill and other responders urged volunteers and residents to wait for cleanup crews and power crews to clear the roads before trying to travel to affected areas. "Trust me, nobody needs to be on the road right now," said Hill.

People who want to volunteer to help affected Floridians should affiliate themselves with a responding group and confirm the need, Hill said. "Where will people stay? All hotel rooms in the affected areas are full."

Both the United Methodist Florida conference and Florida Baptist Convention were contacting church leaders in affected areas to assess damages. Those denominations and many others have worked together, setting up churches and warehouses as distribution points for relief supplies in the wake of Hurricane Charley.

The Salvation Army reported it had 43 mobile canteen units ready to deploy in Florida. The Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) was also preparing to activate over the weekend. SATERN is a HAM radio team that not only helps its onsite volunteers be in touch with the national office, but also helps families find each other when a disaster disables other forms of communication.

Other faith-based response groups were planning to deploy teams by Tuesday, vowing to continue operations that began immediately after Hurricane Charley. As of Sunday afternoon, more than 183,000 people had tele-registered with FEMA to report damages from Charley.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Ivan - the fifth hurricane of the season - was moving westward across the Caribbean and was expected to affect Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands by Tuesday or Wednesday. By then, forecasters said, there will be early indicators if Ivan has the potential to affect areas already hit by Charley and Frances.

"Some public offiicals have been sending the message out over the news that people should not take down the protective covering or plywood because one is coming right behind Frances," said Hill. "This will only increase the stress."

Indeed, at a public briefing, Miami-Dade County manager George Burgess said: "You might want to be smart about whether you take down your shutters," he said.

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