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Weary officials track Jeanne

Emergency officials gathered yet again at the Emergency Operations Center Friday afternoon, weary from Frances and frustrated to find out that Hurricane Jeanne may be headed this way.

Their first meeting after Hurricane Frances was supposed to be a debriefing session, not a preparedness meeting for another hurricane. But there they were, watching charts to find out if and when Jeanne will sweep into the county, bringing blustery winds and inches of rain.

The latest predictions have Jeanne blowing onto land just north of Fort Pierce sometime Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. If Jeanne continues at the same rate, Citrus County could see 40 mph winds about the time Jeanne hits land, said sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney. She said the county could face a storm surge of up to 8 feet. Capt. Joe Eckstein said that, depending on Jeanne's track, the county could feel winds of tropical storm or hurricane force.

Jeanne could be out of the state by 7 a.m. Monday, Tierney said.

"This storm is pretty fast moving," Tierney said.

Emergency officials have yet to decide if shelters will be opened in the county. They don't know if evacuation orders will be given. It's too soon to tell, they said.

Officials will meet again Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. at the operations center to look at the latest information. Key decisions will be made at that time, Tierney said.

Until then, residents with questions can call the citizen information lines. The numbers are 746-5470, 527-2106 and 746-6555. Those lines will open 9 a.m. Saturday morning, Tierney said. Officials also urged residents to check local TV and radio broadcasts Saturday.

Residents still are recovering from Frances, which earlier this month knocked out power to thousands of people throughout the county, damaged homes and took down trees.

County emergency officials aren't excited by this new threat either. They're tired from long hours with little rest as they worked to clean up the damage from Frances.

Capt. Joe Eckstein is the epitome of the weary official. Eckstein worked nearly nonstop at the Emergency Operations Center as Hurricane Charley threatened. He remained while Frances battered the area. He prepared for Hurricane Ivan, which didn't hit Citrus.

Finally, last Friday, he had a day off. He spent it cleaning up trees in his yard felled by Frances.

Last Saturday morning, he heard from Santa Rosa County. They needed help responding to Ivan. He drove up and stayed until Wednesday. The night he returned, he received word that Jeanne could cause more damage to Citrus.

He went back to the center in Lecanto, where he's again organizing officials.

Friday morning, Eckstein urged residents to monitor the latest tracks for Jeanne throughout the weekend and to make sure to have hurricane plans in place. He said he understood everyone is tired of hurricanes. He is, too.

"I'm wore out," he said.

FYI

Citrus County emergency management officials urge residents to check local TV and radio reports today for the latest on Hurricane Jeanne and how it will affect this area. The Times' Web site, www.sptimes.com, also will provide updates.

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