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 » 2006 Forecast  | Saffir-Simpson scale  |  Your stories

Florida cleans up as Frances moves north

Fatalities in Georgia, South Carolina raise death toll to 15


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Satellite image of Tropical Depression Frances taken Tuesday at 10:15 a.m. ET.
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The insurance industry assesses Frances' damage to Florida.

Utility workers in South Florida rush to restore power.
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HURRICANE FRANCIS DEATHS
Florida: 10 deaths
Georgia: Two deaths
South Carolina: One death
Bahamas: Two deaths
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(CNN) -- Utility companies in Florida and Georgia are slowly turning the power on for their residential and business customers after the fury of Frances whipped the Southeast, downing trees and power lines.

Frances was downgraded to a tropical depression late Monday as it moved through Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina with more of the rain and strong wind -- although not of the same intensity -- that it carried on a holiday weekend trip across Florida.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he has asked his brother, President Bush, to declare 12 more counties disaster areas, making homes, farms and businesses eligible for federal loans for Hurricane Frances damage. Five counties are already eligible for funds as disaster areas.

Tuesday night, the U.S. House approved a $2 billion supplemental request from the president for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Senate will vote on the measure Wednesday.

Utility companies in Florida and Georgia set out to restore electricity to the more than 2.5 million people who lost power in the storm, while relief crews kept water, ice, food and other supplies coming to thousands of Floridians still under evacuation orders.

By 9 p.m., Georgia Power reported 235,000 customers without power, including 125,000 in the Atlanta area, said spokeswoman Terri McCullough. The regional utility has 2 million customers.

"We're looking at days" to get electricity restored to some people, she said, "and we aren't even going to pinpoint it." "The numbers are going down slowly."

Florida Power & Light Group officials said Tuesday evening that FP&L expected to restore power to nearly all its customers in Miami-Dade, Hendry, Lee and Collier counties by midnight Thursday and to Broward County by midnight Friday.

Florida Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings urged residents and business owners to stay inside at least another day, citing the continued storm conditions -- including more than two dozen tornadoes Monday -- that have slowed the relief effort.

At 5 p.m., the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Lake City in northern Florida had received 9.3 inches of rain in the previous 42 hours. Gainesville to the south reported nearly 7 inches; Ocala, 6.5 inches; and Jacksonville, nearly 6 inches.

"We're still dealing with flooding," Jennings said. "We need the people to be [coming in] behind the supplies."

Those supplies were at last on the way, she said, urging caution, especially to anyone on the roads.

"We've rerouted traffic around a sinkhole in I-95 around Lake Worth," she said, "and there are trees down blocking I-10 eastbound. Caution is the word of the day."

The storm claimed at least 15 lives -- 10 in Florida, two in Georgia, one in South Carolina and two in the Bahamas before it pushed onto the Florida coast. Four of the deaths in Florida, two in Georgia and one in South Carolina came in traffic accidents.

Frances quickly passed over the Florida Panhandle, sparing it the damage the storm spread over the peninsula. By Tuesday morning, the sun shone brightly where 24 hours earlier residents had been scrambling to prepare for the worst.

The storm moved into Georgia as a tropical depression, forcing the closing of more than 50 school systems, dumping heavy rain and blowing trees onto roadways well into the northern part of the state. The rain moved on into South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee on Tuesday, bringing the threat of flooding there.

Several areas in Georgia reported more than 5 inches of rain as the storm passed through, and Alabama saw as much as 3.89 inches in the same 42-hour stretch that ended at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

In Florida, Patti Michel, public information officer for Seminole County, agreed with the lieutenant governor that the danger was not over. Floodwaters, already a problem, would not reach a peak on the St. Johns River for another day or two, possibly longer, she said.

"We're an inland county," Michel said, "but we've got three lakes ... and the St. Johns runs along our border."

Tampa, too, took a hard hit from the rains even though Frances had slowed down to a tropical storm by the time it reached the Gulf Coast. Several main streets were closed by flooding.

Ben Nelson, the state's meteorologist, said it was not a good situation.

"Rainfall on Sunday and Monday in west central Florida has now resulted in major flooding," he said. "And we expect heavy rainfalls to continue throughout the northern portion of the state today."

Mandatory evacuations and curfews remained in place in many counties, keeping out worried residents and business owners eager to begin repairs. Insurance risk management companies said repair costs could go as high as $10 billion.

That estimate would top Hurricane Charley's $6.8 billion, incurred when the Category 4 storm slammed Punta Gorda in southwest Florida on August 13 and stomped a northeast path across the state, exiting near Daytona Beach.

However, Jennings said that Frances' damage -- while extensive -- might not have the same impact as Charley's, and state insurance officials said it would likely be between $2 billion and $4 billion.

"It's not the same kind of structural damage we had with Charley," she said. "We hope that housing will not be the same issue it was with Charley. Many of the structures look like they are habitable if they just get waterproofed."

In comparison, Hurricane Andrew, which ravaged South Florida in 1992, caused more than $20 billion in damage.

Agriculture, however, may have been hurt worse by Frances than Charley, according to Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson.

"We expect we'll have more cattle loss this time," he said, adding that additional citrus loss was serious and would affect the fresh fruit and juice industries.

Frances started near Stuart and crept northwest, exiting into the Gulf near Tampa. Covering a much wider area than Charley, Frances was also slower, dumping more than a foot of rain on some parts of the state.

Even when it turned north, hitting Florida for a second time near St. Marks on the Panhandle, rain and thunderstorm bands extended far south and east of the storm, continuing to pound areas already reeling.

On Tuesday, Frances' remnants headed toward the Appalachian Mountains, where it threatens to harass residents as far north as southwestern New York as the week progresses.

Floridians are concerned about Ivan, a Category 4 storm entering the eastern Caribbean. (Full story)

But the National Hurricane Center on Tuesday shifted Ivan's official forecast path to the south of the United States, projecting it across western Cuba -- and possibly into the Gulf of Mexico without a direct hit on Florida.

The fast-moving hurricane was nearing Grenada at 8 p.m. ET, speeding to the west at 18 mph (29 kph) with 135 mph (193 kph) sustained winds. The National Hurricane Center said it expected the storm to strengthen over the next 24 hours.


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