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Hurricane Frances Reaches Florida, Bringing Heavy Rains - 2004-09-04

After lashing The Bahamas, Hurricane Frances began moving ashore along the Florida coast on Saturday. Frances has weakened considerably and now has winds of about 160 kilometers an hour. Frances is moving very slowly, at about nine kilometers an hour, and will bring heavy rains and flooding to much of Florida over the next two days.

Hurricane Frances, one of the slowest moving hurricanes in memory, lumbered ashore onto Florida's east coast on Saturday, bringing hurricane force winds and heavy rains to Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

Authorities had issued evacuation orders for more than two million people living along the Atlantic Coast beginning on Thursday. Florida Governor Jeb Bush says many people complied, but because the storm is so slow moving, he has concerns about people wanting to return to their homes before the storm has passed.

"You know, there are people who are going to be in harms way," Mr. Bush says. "As was the case with Hurricane Charley there may be people who lose their lives. What we do not want to have happen is to lose their lives because of abject stupidity. So, please take this storm seriously and stay out of harms way until passes, and then do not go back to your homes, or do not leave your homes until it is appropriate to do so."

Hurricane Frances pounded The Bahamas for more than 24 hours, bringing misery and danger to hundreds of thousands of people. The storm largely spared the island of New Providence, where nearly two-thirds of Bahamians live, but outer islands were hard hit. Chris Lloyd of the Bahamas Air and Sea Rescue Service says as soon as possible air damage assessments of outer islands will begin.

"We will fly, our pilots will fly to many of the islands that have been badly affected by the storm, and with marine vhf radios attempt to communicate with mariners, and persons on the ground there, to assess the situation," Mr. Lloyd says.

In Florida officials are extremely concerned about heavy flooding as the storm breaks up as it passes over land. State meteorologist Ben Nelson says Floridians will be feeling the effects of Frances for several days.

"The storm is going to slowly move across the state in the late night hours tonight and especially during the day tomorrow (Sunday)," Mr. Nelson said. "We are going to see copious amounts of rainfall. And as the storm moves back over the Gulf of Mexico, it is expected to maintain tropical storm strength and could impact the Florida panhandle as we move into the day on Monday."

Frances is the second major hurricane to strike Florida in less than a month, the first time that has happened in more than 50 years. Hurricane Charley struck southwest Florida three weeks ago, causing major damage to the area.

Authorities say unlike Charley, which moved very quickly through the state, Frances will take its time and Floridians should prepare themselves for heavy rains, flooding and power outages over the next several days.