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County keeping a close eye on Jeanne

Hernando County officials are closely watching Hurricane Jeanne. If it remains on its present path, residents could experience tropical storm force winds of up to 60 mph and 2 to 4 inches of rain beginning early Sunday morning and lasting through the night, officials said.

The decision whether to recommend or order evacuations of mobile homes will be made today after the 11 a.m. National Weather Service advisory, and will depend on the track of the storm at that time.

With Jeanne heading north, the Hernando school district put its staff on alert, but officials don't expect schools will be needed as shelters.

School officials met with the Emergency Operations Center advisory committee Friday afternoon to discuss the storm but said they aren't making any preparations.

Schools were forced to close on several occasions because campuses were being used as shelters for hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan.

Frances knocked out power to thousands of homes. So Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative is closely monitoring Hurricane Jeanne as it nears the area.

Both contract and Cooperative crews were recalled from their Hurricane Ivan restoration efforts in the Florida Panhandle to be available for power restoration if needed, said spokesman Ernie Holzhauer.

In preparation for Jeanne, utility staff fueled all service vehicles by Friday evening.

"We anticipate additional outages over the next few days as trees continue to uproot from saturated ground," said Holzhauer. "Wind-blown debris left from Hurricane Frances may entangle in utility wires and cause further power interruptions."

Crews will remain on round-the-clock standby to restore power if interruptions occur.

"We do not foresee the same magnitude of damage as Hurricane Frances, (but) it is difficult to think we will emerge through this heavy weather without further power interruptions," Holzhauer said.

But even as county officials hope to avoid Jeanne, they are still dealing with cleanup from Frances.

Removal of vegetative debris will continue over the weekend. Only storm debris, not green, freshly cut material, will be picked up by contractors. It must be brought to the roadway.

Residents who think their debris pickup may have been missed should call 754-4113.

Debris collection is to be completed by Wednesday, but that is subject to change given the possible impact of Hurricane Jeanne.

FOR UPDATES

Residents may call the county's Public Information Center at 754-4083 after noon today to get updated information or go to www.hernandocounty.us/eoc.

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