Almost a million residents along Florida's east coast were urged _ again _ to pack up, gas up and run on Friday as Hurricane Jeanne drew closer to the tense and tattered state.
The giant storm, wrapped in 100 mph winds, is expected to trudge ashore in the dark on Sunday morning and slice its way north through Florida before pounding Georgia or the Carolinas.
No town along the state's east coast is out of harm's way, meteorologists said, but their official forecast late Friday had Jeanne making landfall about midnight as a Category 3 storm between Palm Beach County and Cape Canaveral. Hurricane-force winds stretched 70 miles from Jeanne's eye late Friday.
"One more time," Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday after signing another order declaring a state of emergency, this one for Jeanne.
"It's the fourth such order since mid August and a precedent I'm not particularly thrilled to have set," Bush said.
Forecasters placed Tampa Bay under a tropical storm watch Friday, predicting winds up to 25 mph this afternoon and up to 40 mph early Sunday. Jeanne could bring at least 2 and possibly 4 inches of rain to the area, forecasters said. Those conditions could worsen if the storm were to track even slightly more to the west.
From the swamp towns south of Miami to the beaches east of Jacksonville, people prepared for the fourth hurricane strike on the state in six weeks.
Eighteen counties, many of them along roughly 300 miles of coastline issued mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders Friday for more than 800,000 residents on barrier islands, low-lying areas and mobile homes, the state reported.
Tolls on key highways have been suspended, and a half-dozen counties already have implemented curfews and canceled public school for Monday. Everything from community colleges to courthouses, Everglades National Park to Kennedy Space Center, shut down. Several college football games in southeast Florida have been postponed, and the University of Florida moved up the start time of its game today against Kentucky to 11:30 a.m.
Jeanne could continue a distressing run that has devastated Florida's Panhandle (Ivan), southwest coast (Charley) and midsection (Frances). Together, they have caused billions of dollars of damage and at least 80 deaths in the state.
"I know people are frustrated, they're tired of all this," Bush said. "Trust me, their governor is as well."
As Jeanne approached, about 588 people remained in shelters statewide, and about 96,500 homes and businesses in seven counties remained without power, compliments of Ivan.
Many feared Jeanne would choose a path already traveled this hurricane season, dangerously scooping up piles of twisted metal, furniture and debris.
Crews with bulldozers worked Friday to clear the mess of flattened homes, torn roofs and snapped trees left over when Frances tore through the heart of the state this month. But many acknowledged it was a losing battle.
"With another hurricane, there's just too much there _ we just don't have the manpower to get it all done," said Martin County spokesman Greg Sowell, who estimated almost 80 percent of debris remained from Frances. He said some streets had debris piled 5 to 6 feet high.
Pam Custis shed tears Friday as she looked at a heap of smashed furniture and flooded carpets in front of her Fort Pierce condominium, which has been stripped to a skeleton of concrete floors and metal frames. The debris pile was as tall as she is.
"This is all we have left," she said of her condo's shell. "When this other hurricane comes, this pile is going to be knocking down the rest of it."
With almost the entire state in Jeanne's danger zone and a hurricane warning stretching from Miami-Dade County to St. Augustine, some questioned whether there was any safe place to go.
"I ain't going anywhere unless they make me," retiree Larry Ruby said as he patched the roof of his Hutchinson Island mobile home. "I don't think you can get away from it."
Officials urged Floridians to stock up in moderation.
"Buy what you need, no more than you need," Bush urged, then joked that everyone probably has enough supplies by now. "We probably have the highest per capita battery rate in the world."
On Friday, the state had 160-million gallons of fuel available for distribution and will have an additional 94 million in the next 72 hours, Bush said. That's about four times as much gas as the state had at the beginning of Frances, when there were shortages along evacuation routes.
Officials are staging supplies for potential victims at Homestead Air Force Base, Lakeland and Camp Blanding in North Florida so they will be able to move in any direction and not be cut off by a storm as they were with Frances.
Millions of gallons of water, ice and meals are being stockpiled, and more than 4,150 National Guard troops were deployed throughout the state.
"We are preparing and recovering and providing relief all the while," Bush said. "It's a time for us to band together as a state and show the rest of the world what Florida is made of."
More than 85,000 volunteers from across the country have spent 1.5-million hours assisting hurricane victims this season _ the biggest volunteer effort in the country's history, FEMA says.
That army needs more staffing, Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings said Friday, urging everyone to help as they could.
Jeanne, already blamed for at least 1,100 flooding deaths in Haiti, was centered about 315 miles east of Florida and moving west at 12 mph late Friday. Forecasters said it could strengthen as it reaches warmer waters closer to Florida's coast.
At 11 p.m. Friday, Hurricane Jeanne was at 26.5 N, 74.9 W, with sustained winds remained at about 100 mph.
An eventual turn to the north was predicted, but it was unclear when that would happen, and some models show the storm stalking the East Coast all the way to North Carolina by Tuesday.
Across Florida, everyone waited.
"Once you go through this it's hard to deal with," said Kelly Baer, 33, who huddled in a bathroom with her three children while Charley destroyed her home in Punta Gorda. She's scared about what Jeanne might do.
"It's a whole new level of stress, you don't ever want to go through it again."
Times staff writers Lucy Morgan and Curtis Krueger contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press. Jamie Thompson can be reached at jthompsonsptimes.com or (727) 893-8455.
WHAT TO EXPECT HERE
Winds should increase today in the Tampa Bay area, with gusts of 15 to 25 mph in the afternoon and early evening, according to the National Weather Service. The intensity will increase after midnight, with winds gusting 30 to 40 mph. Winds should decrease gradually on Sunday, but will likely remain at 20 to 30 mph Sunday evening, forecasters said. On its current path, Jeanne is expected to bring one to two inches of rain to the Tampa Bay area. But if Jeanne's path shifts farther to the west, the Tampa Bay area could receive higher winds and two to four inches of rain, forecasters said.
Jeanne's wide reach
If forecasts hold true, most of Florida will feel some effects from the hurricane.