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Florida Begins Massive Cleanup After Hurricane Jeanne  - 2004-09-27

Floridians have begun cleaning up after Hurricane Jeanne, the fourth hurricane to strike Florida in less than two months. A number of towns in Florida were still recovering from Hurricane Frances, which hit Florida three weeks ago, when Hurricane Jeanne made landfall early Sunday. In Stuart, Florida, storm-weary residents have lived through two hurricanes in less than one month.

The sound of generators is everywhere in Stuart, Florida, a historic river town about 150 kilometers north of Miami.

The center of Hurricane Jeanne passed over the town early Sunday, knocking out power and damaging many of the old buildings and trees that bring thousands of visitors to Stuart every year.

Jeanne was the second hurricane to strike Stuart this month. Monte Perini, a mortgage broker, lives in one of the old downtown buildings. Mr. Perini, busy cooking lunch on an outdoor grill, says he just had his power restored after Hurricane Frances hit town. In addition to debris and destruction, he says the hurricanes left behind other unwanted byproducts.

"Boredom?and not having power," he said. "Comparing the two storms, we live in the boutique in the front, and the second storm [Jeanne] was much stronger, with the noise and the vibration. But, this is a sturdy old building, built in 1914. It has good windows. And, I think most of the projectiles were gone from the first storm [Frances]. But these storms bring everybody together, it really does, it is a community thing, that is good."

Not everybody in Stuart was relaxing after Hurricane Jeanne. A dentist with an office in the downtown historic district, John Harlee, was clearing what was left of his neighbor's roof, from the parking lot behind his office.

"Well, it looks like we got hit pretty bad downtown here," he said. "You see some stuff there, it looks like it came from some boats, so the boats are another couple of blocks over that way. I guess it all just moved this way last night. So, hopefully we can get back to normal soon."

Dr. Harlee says two hurricanes in less than a month have taken their toll - especially on his business.

"There is a lot of cleaning up, but the cleanup is not the problem," he said. "It is the financial difficulties that it presents. Trying to run a small business without being able to work for a month, most people do not have a reserve for that. I know I do not. So, power would be nice. As soon as we get power we can try and start working again, should anyone want to come in. That is about it. "

People in Stuart, and in most other parts of Florida, say they are suffering from hurricane fatigue. The last state to be hit by four hurricanes in one year was Texas in 1886.

Authorities were concerned that as Jeanne approached most people would stay at home instead of moving to shelters or leaving evacuation zones. They were right. Most people living in evacuation areas chose to stay where they were.

Mel Wentzel and his daughter, Carol, say they are glad they did.

"A little cabin fever," said Carol. "The worst was probably last night when we had to sit in front of the front door and make sure it did not blow through, even with the storm shutters. We were taking shifts."

If we were not here, even with the storm shutters, I am certain the front doors would have gone through and that would have allowed the air to rush on through," Mel Wentzel said.

The Wentzel family says they enjoy living in what they call a tropical paradise, but they say two hurricanes is the limit. They say if another hurricane shows up at their front door in Stuart, they will leave Florida.