County readies for Hurricane Frances

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 4, 2004

Florida residents and tourists fled in droves Friday as Hurricane Frances headed for their shores and 2.5 million people looked for safe havens.

Winds in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach had risen to 38-mph Friday afternoon, just shy of tropical-storm-force strength.

The storm’s core was expected to hit somewhere on the Florida coast Saturday afternoon or evening, hours later than had been predicted. An estimated 2.5 million people were told to evacuate.

Moving through the Bahamas on Friday, Frances weakened but remained a strong Category 3 storm, with 115 mph winds at early afternoon, down from 120 mph earlier in the day and 145 mph Thursday.

Butler County Emergency Planner Bob Luman said the weakening condition of the storm took away most of the threat it has posed to this area.

&uot;It’s getting better it’s not getting worse,&uot; said Luman.

&uot;It doesn’t look like it is coming into Alabama. We’re looking good here for now.&uot;

Luman said the main threat for this area would be if the storm went out to the Gulf Coast and gathered strength. Luman said in that situation the storm could gather leverage and have the momentum to make it to Butler County. He said it did not appear this would be the case.

&uot;It’s not going to get out in the Gulf now they don’t think,&uot; said Luman.

&uot;That was the only thing we were concerned about was if it got out in the Gulf and restrengthened. If came up into Panama City or somewhere it could have come here.&uot;

Luman said aside from wet conditions, Butler County should avoid the wrath of the weather.

&uot;I think as far as any danger we will probably get some rain,&uot; said Luman.

&uot;I don’t necessarily think it will be that much. It if stays to the East of us we should be okay.&uot;

If there is a danger to the area Butler County Commission Chairman Jesse McWilliams said they were ready.

&uot;We’ve got all county equipment back at the motor shop,&uot; said McWilliams. &uot;We’ve got them fueled up and ready. We’re just getting prepared and going to wait and see what happens.&uot;

For Florida, the hurricane warning covered most of the state’s eastern coast, from Florida City, near the state’s southern tip, to Flagler Beach, north of Daytona Beach, and a watch was added to Fernandina Beach, at the Georgia line.

This caused a massive evacuation effort. Because many people are forced to leave their homes in Florida they may chose to seek shelter in Greenville.

Luman said this was to be expected.

&uot;We may have some people coming in to evacuate,&uot; said Luman Friday afternoon.

&uot;I talked to the hotels a while ago and there were still over 80 rooms left.&uot;

Luman said the proper measurements had been taken to be sure they were ready for the influx of people.

&uot;We had a shelter meeting here last week and we got all our ducks in a row,&uot; said Luman. &uot;We hope we don’t have to do anything with them.&uot;

Luman said they hotels should be sufficient, but if other shelters were needed they would be ready.

&uot;Probably if we have to use anything it will be Beeland Park and the fairgrounds,&uot; said Luman. &uot;With the schools in session we will try not to use them.&uot;

Hotels of Greenville had already begun to fill Friday morning. Carla Womack, of Days Inn, said many people had already inquired about lodging.

&uot;A lot of people have called us yesterday and today,&uot; Womack said Friday. &uot;I even got a call earlier from an emergency relief corporation that needed 150 rooms.&uot;

Womack said the hotel was just trying to make sure the facilities were in good shape when the people arrived.

&uot;We’re basically trying to get the people in rooms,&uot; said Womack. &uot;We’ve had several cancellations, which helped, but we’ve had just as many calls as cancellations.&uot;

Womack said if the rooms are not available they were happy to direct them to other hotels.

&uot;If we can’t fit them into the rooms we will call around and try to find somewhere for them,&uot; said Womack. &uot;It looks like it will be a busy time.&uot;

Sam Ellis, manager of the Jameson Inn said her hotel has been busy as well.

&uot;They are really coming in,&uot; said Ellis. &uot;We are just trying to get our rooms ready and make sure we have everything they need.&uot;

Ellis said there have been some changes in hotel policy.

&uot;We ordered more breakfasts for one thing,&uot; said Ellis. &uot;We are also relaxing our pet policies. We usually don’t allow pets over a certain size, but during the hurricane we will. We know that they are just trying to get out of there and want to be as accommodating as we can be.&uot;

Luman said time would tell how everything worked out.

&uot;We’ll just have to see,&uot; said Luman. &uot;The best thing we can do is be prepared.&uot;