Jeanne blew in a sense of deja vu

Published Sept. 27, 2004|Updated Aug. 28, 2005

As the cleanup begins in Hillsborough County, so will the debate: Which hurricane left the bigger imprint, Frances or Jeanne?

Both brought wind strong enough to snap oaks and power lines, leaving tens of thousands without air conditioning and lights. Both dumped several feet of water and runoff into the county's rivers.

"This was easier in the sense that the storm moved faster," said Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean, comparing Jeanne to Frances. "We didn't have the frustration of waiting and waiting and waiting."

Like Frances, Jeanne's eye grazed the county's northeast corner Sunday with winds approaching 70 mph at times.

The worst damage could still be ahead.

Though just 2 to 4 inches of rain were expected Sunday, officials fear flooding will be even greater than that which followed Frances.

According to the National Weather Service, the Alafia River is expected to crest Tuesday morning at 25.6 feet, more than 12 feet above normal. The Little Manatee River in Wimauma is expected to crest tonight at 17.9 feet, nearly 7 feet above normal. A minor flood warning is in effect for the Hillsborough River at Morris Bridge Road.

The Little Manatee River in Ruskin was already seeping into back yards on Sunday. Along the Alafia River, residents were scrambling to preserve those personal possessions that survived Frances' flooding.

"The house is gutted, so we're not going to lose much this time," said Tim Pennenga, 24, as he and his wife, Julie, prepared to leave for higher ground.

By 6 p.m. Sunday, 180,000 Tampa Electric customers in Hillsborough were without power. Despite the storm, crews had managed to restore power to thousands of homes during the day.

TECO spokesman Ross Bannister warned that outages from Jeanne could take longer to repair than those during Frances, exacerbated by the fact that Tampa Electric crews are working in other areas of the state hit by earlier hurricanes.

The storm knocked out more than 160 traffic signals in Hillsborough.

Officials made the decision to close all Hillsborough County public schools today after some schools lost power. Officials also said they needed to check school buildings for damage, and that they were concerned about putting school buses on the road given the storm debris.

Surfers who tried to venture into the water near the Ramada Inn in Apollo Beach turned back quickly. Waves crashed so high they reached second-floor balconies and windows were broken by debris. A dock, already damaged by hurricanes past, was finally washed away.

More than 4,000 people took refuge in eight Hillsborough shelters Sunday morning. Two hundred gathered in the special needs shelter at the USF SunDome.

Gloria McNair was among those taking shelter at Middleton High School. Shortly after arriving from her Progress Village home Saturday night, she asked where the cleaning supplies were kept so she could clean the shelter's bathrooms.

"I figured that's the least I could do," said McNair, 54, a Middleton alumna.

The southeast wellfield in east Hillsborough County, which provides water to about 70,000 customers in south Brandon, Riverview, Gibsonton and Ruskin, lost power Sunday morning. Customers experienced low pressure while backup generators were being used.

There was no official recommendation to boil water before drinking it, but Bean said it would not be a bad idea as a precaution.

Due to the widespread power outages, numerous sewage lift stations were not working. The Hillsborough County Water Department is requesting that residents limit their water usage as much as possible.

Tampa and Hillsborough County emergency crews spent the day responding to reports of downed trees and downed power lines.

A firefighter and a resident were injured during an early-morning fire at 2106 E 17th Ave. in Tampa. Fire Marshal's investigators said the house was without power because of the storm. Eight people inside the home fell asleep leaving a candle unattended. A fire began.

High winds blew the flames into neighboring homes; it took Tampa Fire Rescue crews about an hour to subdue the blaze.

Firefighter Steve Skinner, 34, suffered a knee injury after falling from a ladder and was treated at St. Joseph's Hospital. Norman Butler, 64, was treated for smoke inhalation at Tampa General Hospital and released.

A fallen electric wire sparked a small explosion 3911 North B St. in Tampa, igniting two backyard sheds containing propane tanks. Tampa firefighters quickly extinguished the fires. Martha Rider, who lives next door to the downed wire, said no houses were damaged.

"I just really never appreciated at all before what the firefighters do," Rider said. "I don't think any of us gives them enough credit."

Damage was minimal along flood-prone Bayshore Boulevard, where curious joggers and dog walkers ventured into the wind and rain to see Jeanne's handiwork firsthand.

"Look at that tree," said Pamela Kilich, pointing to a leaning palm tree at the corner of Bayshore and Alline Avenue "I love it."

Daisy Perez, 29, and her family traveled from Citrus Park to watch the storm. They took photos in front of the Ballast Point Pier and along Bayshore's seawall.

"This met our expectations," said Perez, soaked by waves from Hillsborough Bay as she posed on a bench. "The hurricane didn't. All the preparing and once again, nothing."

At Cory Lake Isles in New Tampa, wind gusts knocked over portions of white fencing around the property's perimeter.

The storm meant that some in the affluent gated communities and estates in Tampa's suburbs suddenly found themselves a little less secure. The loss of power meant the gates had to be left open so residents could come and go.

High wind felled massive oaks in Seffner and Valrico. One tree collapsed into Edwin Tewmey's year-old garage. Tewmey, 69, has been in Indiana for all four hurricanes.

"One week, Frances took the mailbox; this week, Jeanne hit the garage," said his daughter-in-law, Elena Arroyo, 33, who lives across the street.

Along Kennedy Boulevard, a check-cashing office was open Sunday. The manager at the check-cashing business, which is open seven days a week for 24-hours a day, said he felt more safe at work during a storm than almost any place else.

"Bullet-proof glass all around, there's no way anything's going to happen back here," said the manager, who declined to give his name for security reasons.

As the storm headed north past Hillsborough County, Seminole Heights residents ventured out to see for themselves the damage Jeanne did. By 2 p.m., Kevin Bryant was already in the front yard of his sage-green home, picking up fallen branches and giving his golden retriever puppies a little fresh air.

He lost power Sunday morning and is dreading the sweltering days to come.

"This is an old house and all the windows are painted shut, so all we can open is the doors," dBryant said. "I hope the power comes back on soon, because it's going to get so hot."

Times staff writers Bill Coats, Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Sherri Day, Dong-Phuong Nguyen, Letitia Stein and photographer Mike Pease contributed to this report.

RAYTHEON AIRCRAFT SERVICES: Part of the tattered canopy at the general aviation terminal lies on the ground while a large portion flaps in the wind after Jeanne tore through the bay area.

FRIENDSHIP TRAIL BRIDGE: Jennifer Weston and her family of Tampa made their way to the bridge to "feel how windy it" was Sunday afternoon.

FIFTIETH STREET AND ADAMO DRIVE: A Tampa police officer uses a cruiser to protect traffic from a downed power line Sunday morning in Tampa.

FIFTIETH STREET: Jeanne's high winds and ground-saturating rains help knock down several trees at a cemetery.

SICKLES HIGH SCHOOL: Mary Soto waits on Jeanne's winds to subside so she can return to her Tampa Shores home. A shelter representative said 475 people spend the night at the school.