"Frances will threaten the U.S. mainland probably on Saturday," says CBS News Meteorologist George Cullen. "Right now, it looks to be a Florida storm, meaning a landfall somewhere along the coast of Florida later Saturday. If it's farther up the coast, it would be Saturday night into Sunday."
Frances is nearing the Bahamas and crossing those islands Wednesday night.
"Frances is packing 140-mile-an-hour sustained winds, with gusts about 160-170 miles an hour," said Cullen. "It's moving toward the west at about 17 miles an hour. It will probably stay on this course for the next 24 to 36 hours."
At 8 a.m. EDT, Frances was centered about 130 miles east of Grand Turk Island, which is southeast of the Bahamas.
Millions of Florida coastal residents should be on guard, forecasters said.
"There's a tremendous amount of uncertainty," Jamie Rhome, a meteorologist for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said. "I don't think anyone's off the hook yet."
The prospect of another powerful hurricane had Florida residents thinking of stocking up on supplies or fleeing. State and federal emergency officials were getting ready to repeat a disaster response.
"Maybe not coming but anyway I'll be ready," said Eren Sevedra in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.
"After looking at Hurricane Charley and how it made a bump to the left, to the right, I decided I'd better take it serious," said Outa Davis.
"I'm buying plywood to board up my house because I ain't got no shutters," Julio Zambrano said.
Sales of shutters and plywood were booming in Fort Lauderdale.
"It is really frantic here," said Janice Welte at a Home Depot store. "People here are really heeding the warnings of the National Hurricane Center."
"People start calling right before a storm and they want the shutters," added Marvin Lebovitz of Gulf Atlantic Supply.
Boat owners and sailors were also taking precautions.
"What we're doing now is just taping everything off and remounting her to keep her steady and secure in case of high winds," said yacht captain Jonathan Morascini. "Being in here early I'm not rushing around like a madman in heart attack mode."
State officials worried about finding hotel rooms and shelters for people who may need to evacuate. Many hotel rooms in the southern half of the state are occupied by people left homeless byand emergency workers from other states. Charley also damaged some schools and community centers that had been used as shelters.
But Federal Emergency Management Agency officials say they are ready.
"We have all the operations, all the resources that we need to respond to a major emergency," said FEMA spokesman Justo Hernandez.
With top sustained winds of 145 mph, Charley destroyed or heavily damaged more than 30,000 homes. It was estimated to cost insurers $7.4 billion for damage to homes, businesses and personal possessions such as cars. It was the worst natural disaster to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew caused $15.5 billion in insured damage and killed 15 people when it hit southern Miami-Dade County in 1992.
Despite the losses from Charley, insurers should be able to weather another catastrophe without a slew of bankruptcies like those caused by Andrew, said Bob Hartwig, chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute.