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Last Updated: Monday, 27 September, 2004, 22:00 GMT 23:00 UK
'Hurricane state' fears more storms
By Daniel Lak
BBC correspondent in Stuart, Florida

Florida is reeling from its worst ever hurricane season, with two full months of potential tropical storms still to go.

"We've had enough," screamed the banner headline in the weekend edition of the Miami Herald. Hurricane Jeanne had just come ashore, slamming into what tourism officials call the "Treasure Coast".

Cars drive north on Interstate highway 95 after the first bands of Hurricane Jeanne came ashore in Boynton Beach, Florida
Three million Floridians were urged to leave home in the latest storm

That is a long swathe of beach and barrier islands that starts about 100km north of Miami and lately it has been the state's prime hurricane target.

First Hurricane Frances ripped apart the towns of Fort Pierce, Port St Lucie and Vero Beach; then came Jeanne.

"It was unbelievable," says Mel Wentzel of Stuart, Florida, clearing up palm tree fronds from his front garden. "I'm reconsidering whether I should even be living here."

Like many in Florida, Mr Wentzel is a retiree from the northern United States.

In all, hundreds of thousands of homes have been damaged in coastal and central Florida, some totally destroyed. Aluminium mobile homes were the worst hit.

"Once the wind gets a purchase on these trailers," said a policeman standing at the entrance to a devastated mobile home park, one of hundreds up and down the coast of Florida, "they just rip everything apart. Sometimes the place literally explodes."

Tourists lost

Insurance claims for all four hurricanes - Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne - could top $20bn, according to the Insurance Bureau of America.

Even areas not directly affected by the series of storms are getting few tourists these days
That does not include people who cannot afford insurance, or who let it lapse just before the storm.

Nor is damage to Florida's economic lifeline - tourism - covered by that figure.

Even areas not directly affected by the series of storms are getting few tourists these days.

"We lost the Labor Day holiday weekend to Hurricane Frances," says Donahue Peebles of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors' Bureau.

"What's going to happen in October is anyone's guess."

'Awful picture'

Tourism operators are asking the government for an emergency marketing campaign worth $30m, more than after the 11 September attacks.

Already hotels in South Florida are reporting that bookings are down by more than 20%.

"The world is getting this awful picture of us", said Nicki Grossman of the Broward County tourism bureau.

"We are now known as the Hurricane State."

And could Florida be hit again?

The Miami Herald reports that October and November are usually quiet months for tropical storms, but concludes that all bets are off in this unprecedented, and hugely damaging, hurricane season.

The BBC's Daniel Lak
"This was a storm that added insult to injury"


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