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Frances saves its worst for last

Published Sep. 7, 2004|Updated Aug. 28, 2005

Frances rolled away from Citrus County on Monday, leaving behind a bedraggled, soggy mess and threatening to cause a significant storm surge along the west coast.

Fear of a late night coastal surge _ possibly up to 5 feet to 6 feet _ prompted emergency officials to broaden their precautions Monday: Shortly before noon, an evacuation order that previously included only mobile home residents and people who live in low-lying areas was expanded to include all residents west of U.S. 19.

Already at 6 p.m., water was rushing over streets in neighborhoods off Fort Island Gulf Trail. Residents who hadn't already evacuated packed cars and left the neighborhoods.

School is canceled today, and officials hadn't decided about Wednesday. The primary reason: Four schools still were being used as shelters.

About 400 people remained in those shelters Monday evening, and volunteers had been asked to stay through the night. There was only one report of serious trouble: A 69-year-old man was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct just before 4 a.m. Monday at the Inverness Middle School shelter.

Although Frances was downgraded to a tropical storm and was in the Gulf of Mexico moving away from Citrus, the storm still brought significant rain and wind to Citrus on Monday. Thousands of residences and businesses still were without electricity, and some side roads were blocked by trees and debris. (See related story, this page.)

Along with the feared Monday night storm surge, Frances also left behind another threat: flooding along the Withlacoochee River in places such as the Arrowhead community in northeast Citrus. Emergency planners say they expect the river to flood by Thursday. In anticipation, three sandbag filling stations will open at 8 a.m. today.

Their locations: 9556 E Bushnell Road (State Road 48) in Floral City; the fire station at 9337 State Road 44 E, Inverness; and Stokes Ferry Road and Palm View Street in Arrowhead. Sandbags are free.

Several communities were under orders to boil drinking water. The communities were Foxwood and Water Oak in Inverness, El Dorado Estates off Cardinal Lane in Homosassa Springs and Quail Run in Holder. Officials said the order will be in effect until at least Thursday. With the weather still bad, the county delayed a planned flyover to assess storm damage and imposed a curfew from 9 p.m. Monday through 6 a.m. today.

Despite all that, no injuries were reported, and many restaurants and grocery stores were re-opening as the day went on.

The reports of damage from Sunday and Monday included roofs blown off buildings and hundreds of trees blown down. Three billboards were blown over on State Road 200, and the roof of a service station at U.S. 41 N and County Road 486 was damaged.

The Boathouse Restaurant on U.S. 19 in Homosassa Springs was heavily damaged by a fire Monday morning. It was not known whether the fire was a result of the storm. There was no word on when it will reopen.

West Citrus residents who slept Sunday thinking Frances had blown out to the gulf were socked by pounding winds, a surging tide and nonstop rain on Labor Day _ the type people said they hadn't seen yet during the relentless storm.

In Crystal River, a sailboat listed in Kings Bay and became unmoored midmorning, slamming into the shore near Cracker's restaurant and bar, its white sails scrunched up and flapping. At the Port Hotel and Marina on Kings Bay, a palm tree snapped and bashed a minivan, while a dock flew off into the sea and the parking lot began pooling with water that moved with the winds.

While most people in the hotel had cleared out, two families stood on the second-floor balcony, watching the havoc. Tony Stokes and his family left their Pinellas County mobile home and relocated to the hotel Friday night. John Harting moved his family to the Port from their Crystal River mobile home.

With five kids between them, the families hunkered down in first-floor rooms. When the Port lost power Friday night, hotel workers moved both families into a west-facing, second-floor room, which lost electricity as well.

As the bay surged Monday, the families felt fortunate they had moved up to the second floor of the hotel but worried about strong gusts. Both families said they saw the worst of Frances on Monday.

"It's pretty much a gust like this," Stokes said, holding a floodlight and standing on the second-floor deck as a gale slammed in. "Every now and then you get a gust that'll take out a tree."

Nearby, on Kings Bay Drive, emergency workers in red trucks and flashing sirens drove up and down the road carpeted by leaves and branches, urging residents west of U.S. 19 to evacuate.

Pavla Bratska-Reed hustled around, cramming supplies and a portable stove into a backpack while her husband, Fred Reed, and a 17-year-old Czech Republic student who is staying with them, Gabriel Stanek, readied themselves.

The "fire department came by a second ago and said to evacuate," said Bratska-Reed, who met her husband during the 1993 no-name storm that damaged thousands of homes. "I packed before Charley and never unpacked."

At the Inverness Middle School shelter, Daniel F. Shea of Floral City was accused of being drunk and disorderly about 3:15 a.m. Monday. He disrupted sleeping people, verbally abused two nurses and threatened two deputies with clenched fists, according to an arrest report.

There was one other storm-related arrest, according to jail records: Michael Amodea, 49, was accused of head-butting his wife and throwing her out of their Inverness home and into the storm Sunday morning. He was arrested on a charge of domestic violence.

But for most people, the storm didn't inspire trouble _ just concern and frustration.

One woman traveled from Dunnellon to the Publix in Inverness to buy batteries and snacks for her two young children, having found only a couple of liquor stores open closer to home. Some of the people who waited in line 20 minutes for gas at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Inverness got only a gallon or two before all the pumps went dry about 1 p.m.

At the Publix in Crystal River, customers uttered a collective groan when the store lost power just after 2 p.m. But good luck prevailed: Employees working eight of the nine cash registers still were able to ring up the goods for their weather-weary shoppers.

Times staff writers Raghuram Vadarevu, Colleen Jenkins and Jim Ross contributed to this report.

Tom McHarg watches as waves crash against the sea wall near his Dixie Shores home Monday shortly before officials passed through his neighborhood ordering residents to evacuate. "This is usually a beautiful view, but it's not so much today," McHarg said. "It's kind of scary today." Emergency officials ordered the evacuation because of the threat of storm surge.

Vehicles have to leave the road to pass an oak tree and power lines downed by Tropical Storm Frances along Cutler Spur in Crystal River. Tens of thousands were without power in the county on Monday.