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Third blow to Polk is the hardest

The water began accumulating around Patrick McCrady's property at 7 a.m. Sunday.

Within an hour, it flowed into his living room. By the afternoon, 6 inches sloshed in every room. A moat a few feet deep encircled his home.

Hurricanes Charley and Frances had blown some shingles off McCrady's roof and damaged the back porch. Jeanne left McCrady shaking his head in disbelief.

Barefoot and wearing a T-shirt and yellow shorts, he prodded the smoldering charcoal in a grill set up on the stoop. Water lapped at his ankles.

"I'm tired of this," McCrady yelled through gusts of wind. "It's time the hurricanes hit somewhere else."

It's as if Lake Wales is in a special hurricane bull's-eye, with three hurricanes barreling through here in six weeks.

While Charley plowed a tight swath from southwest to northeast and Frances punished the eastern part of the county before losing its punch as it lumbered west, Jeanne pounded the county from Lakeland to Fort Meade to Indian Lake Estates.

"This one has really done a job across the entire county," said Pete McNally, Polk's emergency operations center director.

Jeanne blew out windows at Bartow High School. Transformers caught fire in Frostproof. A semitrailer truck flipped on its side, coming to rest on train tracks near Lake Alfred.

A huge sinkhole opened up behind the Outback Steakhouse plaza in Lakeland. Angry waves on Crooked Lake threatened to dislodge the boat docks that Charley left behind. RVs at Dusty's Camper World flipped over in a retention pond.

More than half the county was without power Sunday night. Phone service was spotty. Citrus farmers _ Polk is the citrus capital of Florida _ took another hit as hurricane-force winds blasted the groves. And locals knew the rivers would begin to rise like a ticking time bomb.

"This time it will be more of a rebuilding effort than a recovery effort," said Sheriff Lawrence Crow. "This is our home. If we have to rebuild it, we will rebuild it."

Bartow resident Tim Sowell spent much of Saturday night preparing. The power went out about 5 a.m. He lay down to catch a few winks at 6:30 a.m.

Minutes later, the house shook him awake. What he and his wife described as a tornado had thrown a massive oak tree onto the masonry home. The tree hit so hard it flattened the attic and cracked the roof over the outside porch.

Rain poured in. "Talk about a wake-up call," Sowell said as he emptied blue and white coolers collecting water streaming from ceiling vents.

Sowell, his wife, Emily, and their three young children were not injured. The two girls darted through the house pointing at the new holes.

"Mom, I can see some of the roof from inside," said 6-year-old Morgan Sowell.

"It sounds like a waterfall," said her sister, Macy, 3.

Earlier this month, Hurricane Frances chased Nikki Monroe and her family from their home outside Bartow. The rain swelled Peace Creek behind their property, flooding the street. Water rushed in through the windows of some of her neighbors' homes. The deluge cracked some concrete foundations. Mold climbed up the walls.

The waters from Frances surrounded Monroe's home, flooding the septic system and swamping the backyard shed. She, her husband and two kids spent two weeks in a hotel waiting for the water to recede. They moved back a week ago.

Monroe stood outside lamenting their luck. Jeanne had the waters rising again. "I want to move," she said. "Somewhere where there are no lakes."