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Thousands lack power, water

Widespread power outages from Hurricane Jeanne left much of Pasco County in the dark Monday: Sheriff's deputies directed traffic at intersections without signals, more than 89,000 households still lacked electricity Monday evening, and the Pasco County school district canceled all classes today because 20 schools don't have power.

Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings will visit Pasco County today to see the damage first-hand. Her list of New Port Richey stops includes Community Hospital and the county's Emergency Operations Center.

"This community is not the most significantly impacted" by Jeanne, said Michele Baker, the county's director of Emergency Management. "At the same time, it is wearing on people. I think it is an emotional boost to have that visit."

County crews still are surveying the damage from the Category 1 hurricane that ripped through Pasco County on Sunday, leaving crumbled carports and toppled trees in its wake. The storm dumped 4-6 inches of rain in Pasco just three weeks after Frances drenched the county.

The second storm made a bad flooding situation worse, Baker said. The county already had 415 flooding complaints in 26 areas before Jeanne came through, and pumps were siphoning water away from 14 flooded areas.

"We lost a lot of ground in this rain that we gained after Hurricane Frances," Baker said. "In some places, it's higher than when we started (pumping)."

School superintendent John Long said the schools fared remarkably well, save a few roof leaks and a tree down on a covered walkway at Cox Elementary in Dade City. The bulk of the losses were due to power outages: freezers full of spoiled food.

The 20 Pasco schools without power included eight campuses with sewer lift stations. Long said he hated to close schools for a fifth day this academic year, but it became clear that holding classes Tuesday could turn into a health and safety hazard.

"When you've got 1,500 or 2,000 kids in a school and you can't flush the toilets, you have a safety issue," Long said.

While teachers and all 57,000 students were directed to stay home today, principals and other 12-month employees including district office workers were told to report to work.

Prior to Hurricane Jeanne making landfall, school officials scheduled two make-up days for time lost during Charley and Frances. Now they have to find at least two more days to squeeze into the calendar.

"The teachers haven't been able to get into much of a rhythm," assistant superintendent Sandy Ramos said. "It's been start and stop."

Students should expect less time for extras like field trips and more time focusing on the material for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, the mandatory exam given to all 3rd through 11th graders in February and March.

About 89,805 Pasco households still lacked electricity Monday evening, including 61,235 Progress Energy customers, 22,570 customers of Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative and about 6,000 TECO customers.

Some Sprint telephone customers in east Pasco lost service because the phone company did not have enough backup generators for some systems. About 700 county utilities customers in Pasadena Shores, Pine Breeze and Shady Oaks _ all in east Pasco _ had no running water Monday because the pumps couldn't run without electricity.

The storm cut off power to Morton Plant North Bay Hospital in New Port Richey for much of the evening Sunday, forcing hospital staff to use emergency generators to keep systems including life support, lights and elevators running.

The power flickered off for good between 3 and 5 p.m. and returned around 10:30 p.m.

"As a precaution we postponed elective surgeries on Monday," hospital spokeswoman Beth Hardy said.

About a third of the county's 250 traffic signals were damaged during the storm, traffic operations manager Bob Reck said. Jeanne's gusty winds knocked down a signal at U.S. 19 and Alternate 19 about 2 p.m. Sunday. A camera at the intersection snapped pictures of a man loading the signal into his pickup truck and driving away.

Why? "Who knows," Reck said, shaking his head.

Crews still are taking stock of the damage to determine whether emergency food and water supplies are needed.