Frances pushes Floridians into Queen City

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 5, 2004

Millions of Florida residents have evacuated the state because of Hurricane Frances.

Hundreds of the evacuees are now in Selma. Some chose Selma because of Craig Field, as many private aircraft normally parked in Florida hangers are expected to line the runway in Selma before the end of the weekend.

At least 160 are expected to be stacked nose to tail on the tarmac.

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All of the pilots, as well as their families, will probably stay in the Selma area.

By Saturday, 25 rooms had been rented at the Holiday Inn on Highland. The Best Western rented 14. Several rooms had been rented in the Days Inn and Suits and the Hampton Inn had rented 10-15. All of them had reservations for several more, and expected even more people to come in as the storm crept into Florida.

“Some rooms have five to six people in them,” Tonya Garner, a front desk clerk at the Holiday Inn said.

Hurricane Frances has sparked the biggest evacuation in Florida history, with 2.8 million people ordered inland by Saturday.

The hurricane hit Florida Saturday, with winds reported at over 90 mph and knocking out electricity for over 450,000 Floridians.

The storm slowed earlier in the week and has been crawling toward Florida at just 5 mph. The eye of the storm isn’t expected to hit east-central Florida until early Sunday.

More than a foot of rain is expected, and forecasters say winds could reach speeds of 105 mph.

“This is going to be a tough ride for us over the next few days,” Gov. Jeb Bush said.

Still, despite the storm’s ferocity, originally, it was believed Frances would dump more than 20 inches of rain across the state and deliver winds of 145 mph before it was over.

Frances’ arrival came three weeks after Hurricane Charley killed 27 people and caused billions of dollars in damage in southwestern Florida.

Once the storm makes land, it will take 12 to 15 hours to cross the peninsula, the hurricane center said. Frances was expected to push across the state as a tropical storm just north of Tampa, weaken to a tropical depression and drench the Panhandle on Monday before moving into Alabama.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.