Hurricane Frances weakened as it moved slowly across Florida, causing massive power outages and flooding across the state. The storm is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico and then cross back into northern Florida and the southeastern United States during the next 24 hours. Authorities are working to restore power and assess damage from the second major hurricane to strike Florida in less than a month.
President Bush declared hurricane-affected counties federal disaster areas, making hard-hit residents eligible for federal aid.
Frances continued its path across Florida, lashing the state with high winds and 20 to 30 centimeters of rain. As much as 50 centimeters of rain fell in some areas.
The storm cut power to an estimated four million people across the state. Governor Jeb Bush appealed for patience and warned Floridians not to venture out until it was safe to do so.
"Please be patient," he urged. "This is going to be a quick response by literally thousands of people. Just remember that you and your family are more valuable than your valuables. So do not go back to your home if you are in a shelter, and do not think that you need to get on the interstate and go back to your community until you are told to do so."
Frances was one of the slowest moving storms in memory and brought misery and several deaths to the Bahamas before it struck Florida. The storm stayed over the Bahamas for nearly two days, drenching the island chain and causing considerable property damage.
Frances forced the shutdown of airports across Florida and the closing of major amusement parks such as Disney World on the normally busy Labor Day weekend, a major holiday in the United States.
Frances was the second major hurricane to strike Florida in less than a month, following hurricane Charley, which devastated parts of southwest Florida last month. Governor Bush says the state will recover from both storms.
"You know it has been a combination of things that have occurred that will set us back a bit temporarily," he said, "but I am very optimistic about our state's economic future. We are going to work very hard to first and foremost provide relief for people who have lost everything. That is our first priority. Then the recovery effort which was begun for Charley will occur for the victims of Frances."
Meanwhile, in what is being seen as an unusually active year of hurricane activity, the fifth hurricane of the season, Hurricane Ivan, formed in the Atlantic about 1,900 kilometers east of the Lesser Antilles. Forecasters say Ivan could threaten the islands of the Caribbean and the southeastern United States later this week.