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Florida Prepares for Hurricane Frances  - 2004-09-02

Authorities in the U.S. state of Florida have urged more than a million coastal residents to evacuate before Hurricane Frances is expected to strike on Friday. The storm with winds of 230 kilometers an hour struck the Bahamas on Thursday. Hurricane Frances is the second hurricane to strike Florida in less than a month.

Forecasters say Hurricane Frances is a huge storm with hurricane force winds extending outward 130 kilometers. The storm struck the Bahamas on Thursday ripping roofs off of houses and causing heavy flooding across the island chain.

In Florida, authorities urged residents living along a 500-kilometer stretch of coastline from Miami to north of Daytona Beach to evacuate. Florida Governor Jeb Bush says time is running out for those living close to the Atlantic Ocean.

"The storm will have significant force to it," he said. "People need to begin the implementation to move. People do not have to go 200 miles, they do not have to go 50 miles. You can go in your own community to one of the shelters that have been well announced and well publicized, or go with a friend or a neighbor. But it is important to act now."

Sections of Interstate 95, the main north-south highway in Florida were backed up for miles late Thursday as people moved inland.

Forecasters say the center of Hurricane Frances will probably strike an area near Palm Beach County, but because the storm is so big nearly everyone living along a 500 kilometer stretch of coastline will feel the affects of Frances.

The storm is also moving very slowly and authorities fear that when it comes ashore people near the center of the storm could be affected by hurricane force winds for hours. Governor Bush says even though the storm will begin to break up as it moves inland, that process will take a long time, and inland residents need to take precautions as well.

"For the folks that are not on the coastline. This storm will not lose its intensity for a long while," he said. "It is a very slow moving storm and there will be significant flooding and rainfall and it will take a long time to pass the peninsula of Florida."

Mr. Bush says even residents on Florida's west coast will be affected by Hurricane Frances. Parts of southwest Florida were devastated last month by Hurricane Charley.

The last time two hurricanes affected Florida in such a short time was 54 years ago, when two hurricanes much smaller and less powerful than Charley and Frances struck the state.