Storm Weary Florida Braces for Hurricane Ivan

MIAMI, Florida, September 14, 2004 (ENS) - Packing maximum sustained winds of 160 miles per hour with higher gusts, Hurricane Ivan has entered the Gulf of Mexico and is moving towards Florida and Louisiana, including New Orleans. One of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the region, Ivan has killed at least 68 people across the Caribbean in the past seven days and now threatens millions more.

The National Weather Service Hurricane Center in Miami classifies Ivan as an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm, the most powerful category on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.

About 1.3 million Cubans were evacuated ahead of Ivan, which slammed the lightly populated western tip of the island nation on Monday. Cuban President Fidel Castro and president of the Provincial Defense Council Maria del Carmen Concepcion Gonzalez visited the westernmost town of Sandino to meet with storm-battered residents.


The eye of Hurricane Ivan, framed by solar array panels on the International Space Station. (Photo by Astronaut Edward Mike Fincke courtesy NASA)
On the coasts, a Cuban weather expert said that the Punta del Este weather radar showed formidable waves up to 20 feet high were causing coastal flooding in the area south of the Canarreos islands, east of the Isle of Youth.

On Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, thousands of residents and tourists in Cancun were evacuated as Ivan's fierce winds and heavy rains whipped up the sea and pounded the coast. Some 12,000 tourists and residents were evacuated from Isla Mujeres, a resort island eight miles from Cancun. Airports across the region were closed.

A hurricane warning is still in effect for the Yucatan Peninsula, but will likely be discontinued later today as the hurricane moves away to the northwest.

A hurricane watch is in effect for the northern Gulf of Mexico coast from Morgan City, Louisiana east to St. Marks, Florida, and a tropical storm watch is in effect for the Florida Keys.

At five o'clock this morning, the Hurricane Center said a reconnaissance plane located the eye of Ivan 575 miles south-southeast of the U.S. coast, moving about nine miles per hour. Hurricane force winds extend outward from the eye up to 100 miles.

Ivan could spread tropical storm force winds, heavy rainfall, and possible tornadoes onshore into the Florida panhandle on Wednesday, well in advance of Ivan's eye, which is expected to make landfall Wednesday night.

Florida is facing its third hurricane within a month with the help of disaster response workers from 25 states, working with Florida's emergency team to enhance ongoing relief efforts and prepare people for Ivan.

Weary Floridians are scrambling to prepare to evacuate again. Many homes and businesses are still boarded up after Hurricane Charley in mid-August and Frances at the beginning of September struck the state, leaving more than 50 dead and thousands of homes and lives in ruins.


Carol Bartlett of Punta Gorda shows a Red Cross worker the extensive damage to her family’s home from Hurricanes Charley and Frances. (Photo courtesy American Red Cross)
Almost 16,000 American Red Cross volunteers are on the job, providing hot meals, water, shelter, cleaning supplies and emotional and financial support to hurricane victims.

“We are going to keep delivering services as long as possible before Ivan arrives,” said Shelley Szafraniec, a Red Cross worker with Florida’s Coast to Coast chapter. “We are stocking our mobile feeding trucks with heater meals and ready to eat meals so we can continue to provide for families in need no matter what the next storm brings.”

Widespread flooding continues across portions of northeast Florida. Outer rain bands from Hurricane Ivan may begin to impact northeast Florida by Tuesday afternoon, and these locally heavy rains will aggravate existing flooding conditions.

Flood warnings have been extended through 3 pm on Tuesday afternoon for Union, Suwannee, Columbia, and Gilchrist counties.

In west central Florida, record flooding continues along the Peace River near Bartow and along the Cypress Creek at Worthington Gardens. Major flooding is ongoing along the Peace River near Arcadia. Major flooding is forecast along the St. John's river near Sanford by midweek, with potential damages towards the weekend.

Oil and natural gas companies Monday evacuated hundreds of workers from their rigs in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The state capital Tallahassee situated on the Florida Panhandle is preparing for the storm. The city’s Emergency Management Team could be activated as early as tonight or Wednesday morning, depending on the hurricane’s path. Emergency Management officials are monitoring the storm closely.


This map from the National Hurricane Center shows the probability that Ivan will pass within 75 miles during the next 72 hours. Yellow equals a 10 to 19 percent chance; green, a 20 to 49 percent chance; orange a 50 to 99 percent chance; and red indicates where the storm was at 1 o'clock this morning. (Map courtesy National Weather Service)
“We want to remind residents that, although we’ve been spared lately, this storm could still be a serious threat to our area,” said Michelle Bono, director of communications. “The city is doing everything it can to prepare for this storm, and we hope our citizens will remain alert and prepared as well.”

Monday the city’s Gas Utility fielded calls from residents frightened by a national news service’s recommendation to turn off gas service in anticipation of the storm.

“We don’t recommend that people turn off their gas,” said Sam Davis, general manager of the Gas Utility. “Most of our gas lines are underground and unlikely to be affected by the storm. If a tree fell on a resident’s gas meter and gas began to leak, the resident should call 891-4YOU and report it. A gas leak is considered an emergency, and we will respond immediately.”

Tallahassee was battered by both Hurricane Charley and Hurricane Frances, so residents are bearing a heavy financial burden that the state can do little about without changes to state law, says Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.

There is growing concern among storm victims facing the potential of being hit with two insurance deductibles from the recent back-to-back storms. Now they are worried that Hurricane Ivan could strike them a third blow.

"I am deeply troubled that a second deductible will increase the financial burden for many who are trying to rebuild," Gallagher said. "I believe it is fundamentally unfair for consumers to pay multiple deductibles during a hurricane season.

"I also believe that consumers deserve to have a choice in the amount of deductible they will pay, whether it is $500, two percent or higher," he said. "State law should not prevent consumers from choosing a deductible that best fits their financial circumstances."

"Currently, state regulators’ hands are tied because a Florida law passed in 1996 permits insurance companies to charge a two to five percent deductible, depending on the value of a policyholder’s home," said Gallagher. "We need to look for options from the Florida Legislature that will help relieve this financial burden and speed up the process of rebuilding."

Governor Jeb Bush is considering the need for a special session of the legislature to address these issues. Meanwhile, Gallagher is encouraging consumers facing two deductibles to call the Department of Financial Services at 1-800-22-STORM to work with state officials to lighten the additional financial burden.


Hurricane Frances tore about 820 panels off the Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building. (Photo courtesy NASA)
On Monday, NASA's Kennedy Space Center was reopened to all 14,000 employees. The center had been closed for normal business since September 2 because of damage caused by Hurricane Frances.

About 1,500 damage assessment and support personnel have spent the past week working to get in working order after more than 800 tiles were torn from the front of the Vehicle Assembly Center building, roofs were ripped off and workrooms left open to the elements.

About 650 employees will have to report to alternative worksites, because their damaged buildings require extensive repairs. Most employees will have operational facilities that have power, air conditioning, voice and data communications when they return to work.

Workers are preparing the center for Hurricane Ivan this week. The center is expected to feel some limited effects of Ivan tonight or Wednesday morning. The Stennis Space Center in Mississippi is also keeping an eye on the storm as it enters the Gulf of Mexico.