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Bush Heads to Florida to Assess Hurricane Damage  - 2004-09-07


President Bush will visit Florida on Wednesday to assess damage caused by Hurricane Frances, the second major hurricane to strike Florida in less than a month. At least nine deaths are being blamed on the storm and Frances is bringing heavy rains and flooding to much of the U.S. southeast.

Flood warnings have been posted for Georgia and other states as far north as Maryland, as the remnants of Frances continue to cause misery for residents of the southeastern United States.

Parts of storm-affected Florida remain without power and authorities are urging residents of hard-hit areas to delay returning home, until work crews have cleared debris which could cause injuries or even death.

Many Floridians are breathing a sigh of relief that Hurricane Frances did not cause the sort of catastrophic damage associated with Hurricane Charley, which struck southwest Florida last month. But Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings says once all the assessments are in, damage from Frances could be considerable.

"The physical damage to property hopefully will not be to the extent that Charley had, but we are covering such a much larger area that in fact the numbers may come close," she said.

Frances struck Florida over the Labor Day holiday weekend, and forced the closing of major tourist attractions such as Disney World and other amusement parks, as well as beaches and other tourist attractions. Lieutenant Governor Jennings says most amusement parks are now open for business and tourists are welcome back in the Sunshine State.

"The attractions are open and many of our beaches were impacted," she said. "But our north shore beaches were not impacted to the extent that they thought they might be. So we will be up and moving here very quickly and those who had planned trips to Florida need to just validate that everything is okay for them to come."

Damage assessments are also being carried out for Florida's second biggest industry after tourism: Agriculture. Hurricane Charley caused more than one-hundred million dollars in damage to citrus crops on Florida's west coast last month.

Andrew Meadows, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Citrus, says Florida's important grapefruit crop was hard-hit by Frances.

"The unfortunate circumstance is that Frances crossed over the mainland in the primary grapefruit growing region of Florida," he said. "About 75 percent of the grapefruit is grown in St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River counties, so we are expecting some significant damage to the grapefruit crop."

Even as they are assessing the damage from Hurricane Frances, Floridians are looking nervously at the Caribbean, where Hurricane Ivan is lashing the islands of the eastern part of the sea. Ivan is forecast to strike the islands of Jamaica, Hispaniola and Cuba within a few days, and possibly strike The Bahamas and Florida by the end of the week.

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