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Jeanne Hits Heart Of Florida

Hurricane Jeanne blasted ashore in Florida with drenching rains and 120 mph wind, tearing off rooftops, hurling debris through the air and sending huge waves crashing into buildings Sunday as it hit the same area battered by Frances three weeks ago.

At least 1.5 million people were without power as Jeanne weakened and sliced across the central part of the state.

Florida has a bad case of hurricane fatigue. This is their fourth major storm in six weeks' time. The last time a single state suffered through four hurricanes in one season was in 1886 - in Texas.

By late morning, Jeanne had weakened to a Category 1 storm with 75-mph top sustained winds, but its 400-mile diameter covered most of the central part of the Florida Peninsula, including Tampa and Orlando. It was expected to stay inland over Georgia and the Carolinas through Tuesday.

Rainfall totals of 5 to 10 inches were expected in the storm's path, and flooding could be a major concern because previous hurricanes had saturated the ground and filled canals, rivers and lakes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has responded with the largest deployment in its history, eclipsing response for the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, Calif., and the 2001 terrorist attacks, FEMA Director Michael Brown said Sunday.

"You're going to have some areas that have been hit once, twice and sometimes maybe three times and just as you think you're making headway on debris removal, for example, you've got to go back in," Brown said. "That's very frustrating I know for those who live in those communities."

Debris left from the other storms became airborne as Jeanne made landfall shortly before midnight near the southern tip of Hutchinson Island near Stuart, about 35 miles north of West Palm Beach - the same area ravaged by Frances.

National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said it was the "first time ever that we know of" that two landfalls that close in place and time. All three other hurricanes - Charley, Frances and Ivan - have hit within the last six weeks.

At the Ocean Breeze trailer park in Jensen Beach, roofs of mobile homes were peeled back like the lids of sardine cans. Computer printers, hair dryers and propane canisters littered the road. Metal sidings clanged in the wind.

Rain whipped sideways in sheets, sections of road were washed out by pounding waves and at least a foot of water rushed through some streets in Vero Beach.

"The last three weeks have been horrific and just when we start to turn the corner, this happens," said Joe Stawara, owner-manager of Fairlane Harbor Mobile Home Estates, where half of the 232 trailers were damaged.

The 400-mile diameter storm then swirled north into central Florida, an area saturated by rain from previous hurricanes that caused billions of dollars in damage and killed at least 70 people.

One person was electrocuted in Miami early Sunday after touching a downed power line, and minor injuries were reported.

Bridges from the mainland to Hutchinson Island were flooded and impassable early Sunday. On the barrier island, water rushed through the bottom floor of Atlantis condominiums, where John Lumberson and son Josh rode out the storm. The parking lot was buried in 5 feet of sand and water, and sand rose to kitchen cabinets inside first floor condos.

"It sounded like the whole building was coming down," said Josh Lumberson. "You could hear every metal screw coming out of the walls."

A main scenic road that parallels Lake Monroe had a foot of water in some parts that flowed through the street like a slow-moving creek. Waves of about 3 feet were breaking along and over the seawall that keeps the lake's water from the town of Sanford's historic downtown area.

At least 1.5 million homes and businesses were without power Sunday, including much of Palm Beach County. Even before Jeanne hit, some 80,000 people had no electricity in the panhandle following Ivan, and officials feared many could be without power for three weeks or more.

Two million people had been urged to evacuate. State officials said more than 59,000, many with homes already damaged by Frances, stayed at shelters.

"Before I left home, I prayed over my house and I told God it was in his hands," said Ada Dent, who went to a shelter in West Palm Beach with her 2-year-old grandson.

In Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie, several people were rescued from homes during the relative calm of Jeanne's eye. No one was injured, but the residents "didn't think they were going to make it through the storm," St. Lucie County sheriff's Capt. Nate Spera said Sunday.

In Stuart, parts of the waterproof roof covering at Martin Memorial Medical Center blew off, said administrative nursing supervisor Sharon Andre. One person was rescued after part of a condominium roof collapsed.

At least two shelters were damaged - part of an elementary school's roof flew off in Melbourne, and a roof leaked in Fort Pierce. No one was injured, and the evacuees were taken to other shelters.

At 11 a.m. EDT Sunday, Jeanne was centered about 30 miles east-southeast of Tampa. It was moving west-northwest near 10 mph.

Earlier, Jeanne tore across the Bahamas, leaving some neighborhoods submerged under 6 feet of water. No deaths or serious injuries were reported there, but the storm was earlier blamed for more than 1,500 deaths in floods in Haiti.

Jeanne followed Charley, which struck Aug. 13 and devastated southwest Florida; Frances, which struck Labor Day weekend; and Ivan, which blasted the western Panhandle when it made landfall in nearby Alabama on Sept. 16.

Officials ran out of time to remove tall piles of debris - from branches to sodden furniture and building materials - that remained on neighborhood streets, left over from Frances.

Gas stations and businesses were boarded up and deserted, and law enforcement took to the radio airwaves, saying that anyone who was outside their homes after the 6 p.m. curfew Saturday would be jailed.

LaTrease Haliburton reluctantly checked into a West Palm Beach shelter with her 6-year-old daughter, who has had nightmares since Frances caved in the bathroom ceiling in her family's apartment.

"I want to make sure my daughter isn't as scared this time," Haliburton said.