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Relief and recovery _ again

Shortly after Hurricane Jeanne's winds eased, semitrailer trucks loaded with food and water began chugging toward hard-hit areas as relief efforts began anew along the state's unlucky east coast.

The practiced drill appeared to unfold more quickly this time, with forklifts powered up and ready to unload supplies almost as fast as the trucks pulled in, Fort Pierce officials said.

Water and ice stations already were open Monday in St. Lucie and Indian River counties. Food will be widely distributed this morning, officials said.

"We've got no electric, no air conditioning, no water, no nothing," said 90-year-old James Kressler, waiting for nearly an hour in Indian River County for the ice to keep his medication cool. "But we've got ice."

Hurricane Jeanne tore a fresh path of despair in its march through storm-ravaged Florida. The fourth hurricane in six weeks shut down much of the state and escalated recovery efforts to historic levels.

More than 20,000 Floridians remain in shelters, 1.9-million utility customers are without electricity and schools in 35 of the state's 67 counties remain closed today.

Six deaths have been attributed to Jeanne, and state officials blame a total of 91 deaths on hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. Insured losses are in the tens of billions of dollars.

"I've stopped trying to assess which storm is worse than the other," Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday. "They are all powerful, they all wreaked havoc in our state and they all stink."

President Bush on Monday asked Congress for $7.1-billion to help Florida and other southeastern states recover from the four hurricanes. Congress has already approved Bush's first request of $2-billion and is considering his second, $3.1-billion proposal, so the total price tag should exceed $12-billion.

Hurricane Jeanne was downgraded to a tropical depression as it spun north through Georgia on Monday. It was expected to move into the Carolinas today.

In Florida, a number of the bridges to barrier islands in Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties remained closed. Authorities said island roads are impassable in many spots.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency showed signs of strain, asking people with minor property damage to "wait a few days" before calling.

But across the weather-beaten counties, there were signs of experience. Jeanne made landfall in almost the same spot as Frances and closely followed its predecessor's path across the state. Some Fort Pierce relief stations were erected in the same locations.

The line for water and ice snaked for more than a mile in Fort Pierce. But volunteers from Convoy of Hope and the Church of Scientology moved cars through at a pace that meant a wait of less than an hour.

"I've been through one of these lines 10 times," said Sebrenia Young, a relief effort veteran after Hurricane Frances. "Now we're doing it again."

Volunteer organizations were out early but admitted they were tired. Many of them drove all night to get to the east coast, some leaving Ivan-ravaged Pensacola to help victims of Jeanne.

In Indian River County, the first 18-wheelers loaded with ice rolled in Sunday night, less than 24 hours after Jeanne's peak winds. Two distribution centers were running early Monday and the county already had requested 3,000 camper trailers to provide portable housing for residents whose homes were destroyed.

Indian River County sustained more than a billion dollars in damage, county emergency preparedness coordinator Nathan McCollum estimated Monday.

During Frances, the staging area for relief efforts was in Jacksonville. But that put the major supply of water and ice on the wrong side of the storm and delayed help.

Before Jeanne, the state moved equipment and supplies into position south of the storm, placing materials about a three-hour drive from Vero Beach in Homestead, south of Miami. Officials also stockpiled materials atJacksonville and Lakeland.

"Whoever pre-staged the ice and water this time around got it to the right spot," said state Rep. Stan Mayfield, R-Vero Beach. "We were handing it out this morning at 8 o'clock. It made all the difference in the world."

Still, some said supplies weren't distributed fast enough.

"This is just too much, this is just unbelievable," said Gladys Caldwell, who knew just how long she had waited for water and ice at a Fort Pierce distribution station.

"Two hours and 18 minutes."

More than 35,000 insurance adjusters are working statewide handling more than 1-million claims filed from the first three storms. About 3,000 adjusters have arrived since Jeanne struck Sunday.

Adjusters are hard-pressed to determine if damage was caused by Frances, Jeanne or Charley in the case of some inland counties affected by all three storms.

Hurricane experts still marvel that two hurricanes hit almost exactly the same spot in less than three weeks. The main difference was their strength and speed, with Jeanne unleashing 120 mph winds as it moved through at 12 mph. Frances lumbered through at 7 mph, lashing the area for more than a day with 105 mph winds.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami can cite a few similar examples of hurricanes closely following the same paths, including two unnamed storms that struck the Palm Beach County area several weeks apart in 1947.

But they can't explain why Frances and Jeanne took such similar paths.

"I can't think of any scientific reason why two systems would go after the same exact area three weeks apart," said Robert Molleda, meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "It was just sheer bad luck."

Experts believe hurricane seasons are cyclical, and that the Atlantic entered a more active season starting in 1995, with a record 33 hurricanes in the four years from 1995 to 1999.

In comparison, the four quietest years since the 1940s were 1991-1994, with fewer than four hurricanes per year, according to the hurricane center. One of those, though, was Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Times staff writer Jeff Harrington contributed to this report, which used information from the Associated Press and Cox News Service.

FORT PIERCE BEACH: Kevin Seidel Jr., 4, pulls a wagon he found to his home in Fort Pierce Beach on Monday. Seidel's family rode out Jeanne and Frances. "We made out okay. The hardest part is waiting for electricity," said Kevin's mother, 35-year-old Teresa Agosto.

JACKSONVILLE: Postal worker Terry Handy retrieves mail from a box along a flooded sidewalk Monday in the San Marco section of Jacksonville.

PASS-A-GRILLE: Bob Moore clears insulation from his neighbor's home Monday after it was damaged by Jeanne. Parts of the roof peeled off and curled over onto power lines.