Fourth hurricane looms as Florida counts cost of Ivan

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The Independent US

The Florida handyman David Mace tells of seeing a sign on one of the many homes he has visited as he deals with queues of customers wanting repair work done in the wake of Hurricane Ivan and his destructive predecessors in the worst hurricane season for five years: "1 Charley, 2 Frances, 3 Ivan, 4 Sale".

The Florida handyman David Mace tells of seeing a sign on one of the many homes he has visited as he deals with queues of customers wanting repair work done in the wake of Hurricane Ivan and his destructive predecessors in the worst hurricane season for five years: "1 Charley, 2 Frances, 3 Ivan, 4 Sale".

Absurd as this may seem, the sign is likely to prove optimistic as Tropical Storm Jeanne is forecast to build into hurricane force by the time it hits the US on Monday. It has already killed two people in the Dominican Republic. But, in the interim, the residents of a large area of the south-eastern United States were facing the task yesterday of clearing up the debris left behind by Ivan.

President George Bush is expected to tour some of the areas worst hit, stretching along the Gulf Coast from Alabama to the Florida panhandle, tomorrow. His brother, Jeb Bush, the Governor of Florida, tried yesterday to console the residents of his state, who have suffered a triple-punch of hurricanes in recent weeks. "It's sad," said a weary-sounding Governor Bush. "I don't know quite why we've had this run of storms. You just have to accept that."

The previous two storms were Charley and Frances, which, in the space of two weeks, slammed into southern Florida, one from the west, the other from the east, leaving widespread destruction.

By the last count, 24 people in five states lost their lives to Ivan alone, which had already killed 70 others across the Caribbean. The highest death toll was in Florida where 14 people perished, some in the scouring winds of tornadoes that repeatedly dropped out of Ivan's eastern flank, although Alabama took the direct hit of the eye.

"Virtually the entire state of Florida is a disaster area," Mike Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, confirmed last night. "These people are just worn out from these storms."

After coming inland just east of Gulf Shores, Alabama, early on Thursday with winds of 130mph near its eye, Ivan quickly lost power as it tracked further inland and north. But it was still a concern last night and it continued to bring flooding to states including Tennessee and the Carolinas. Its remnants were expected in New York later.

In some areas, whole sides of buildings had been ripped away by the tempest. "Some of the houses, everything inside was gone out of one side - like a heavy wave of water hit it and spit the stuff inside of the house out," Sheriff Ron McNesby said after surveying the worst damage in Pensacola, Florida.

"It was hell," said Tonja Elberfeld, who rode out the storm at a motel outside Gulf Shores. "It beat and it banged. We were crying and singing 'Jesus Loves Me' just to stop the noise. I thought we were gone."

It may be many weeks before authorities in Florida will be able to reopen Interstate 10, a crucial artery that runs east-west across the panhandle, after Ivan scooped away a whole section of the highway as it crosses Escampia Bay to the north of Pensacola. Meanwhile, 1.7 million people are still without power.

Tourist officials also warned of the long-term economic implications. "People will definitely not come here during the summertime and that means great losses," Abraham Pizam, the dean of the University of Central Florida, said.

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