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Jeanne strikes homes, fills rivers

Hurricane Jeanne tore down tree limbs, flooded homes and left roughly half of Pasco's households without power as the storm ripped across the county Sunday.

As the heaviest rain bands passed Sunday evening, the gravest threat remained the possibility of an overnight storm surge of up to 6 feet.

Powerful onshore winds prevented the noon high tide waters from draining away. As the normal "low tide" time approached Sunday afternoon, water levels near Port Richey were a foot and a half above the typical high tide mark.

On Hudson Beach, dark waves rolled in from the gulf and pounded the seawall, some leaping as high as four feet on impact. By 5 p.m., the water had begun to close in on the parking lot, foreshadowing what could be significant flooding in the area.

A dozen or so motorists loitered, cameras in hand, before being shooed along by a sheriff's deputy. A man and woman seemed consumed by waves as they held tight to a railing, then ran to safety.

Meanwhile, the county's director of Emergency Management made televised appeals Sunday afternoon for coastal residents to evacuate.

"There is the potential for people to be trapped by rising water," Michele Baker told viewers of the county's cable access channel.

County officials recommended evacuations Saturday for thousands of residents along the coast and in flood-prone areas, and ordered mandatory evacuations for 125,700 residents in mobile and manufactured homes countywide.

By Sunday afternoon, 2,772 residents had taken advantage of the county's seven shelters.

Wind gusts of 70 mph in Zephyrhills and 75 mph in New Port Richey bent metal street signs and sent trees toppling across roads. About 75 percent of the tree canopy at Fort King Road and State Road 52 was strewn across the Dade City intersection.

Downed power lines left about 102,845 households _ including 49,000 Progress Energy customers, 43,845 customers of Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative and about 10,000 TECO customers _ in the dark. Nearly everyone in Dade City, San Antonio and St. Leo was without power, as the TECO transmission line feeding those communities was down.

With the roads a tangled mess of tree branches and live wires, officials in Dade City enacted a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

"It won't be safe to be back out because of downed trees and downed power lines," Baker said.

Rising floodwaters forced Dade City crews to evacuate residents near Whitehouse Avenue and 10th Street as Jeanne battered the east side of the county. The Pithlachascotee River was filled to the brim Sunday afternoon, and high tides pushed water over Green Key Road near New Port Richey.

"The rivers are coming up extremely fast," Baker said, noting forecasters predict all Pasco rivers to reach flood stages in the coming days.

Jeanne dumped 4 to 6 inches of rain in east Pasco and 2 to 4 inches in west Pasco on Sunday, and another 2 to 4 inches is possible today, Baker said.

With waters rising and more rain on the way, county officials kept residents in shelters Sunday night. The school district canceled classes today, as some schools don't have electricity and high winds are dangerous for buses.

Officials started taking stock of the damage Sunday evening, gearing up to clean up more debris and provide more relief _ just three weeks after doing the same for Frances.

"We're all tired, and I know our residents are tired," Baker said. "Everyone's frustrated with this hurricane season, as historic as it may be."

Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report. Bridget Hall Grumet covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is bhallsptimes.com.

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