FORT PIERCE, Fla. - Hurricane Jeanne got stronger, bigger and faster Saturday, forcing anxious Floridians to hurriedly shutter their homes and buy last-minute supplies as the storm bore down on the state's Atlantic coast with winds near 115 mph. Three million people were told to evacuate.
Jeanne lashed the Bahamas with violent winds and torrential rains Saturday, making a direct hit on Abaco island and threatening the country's second-largest city, Freeport. Hundreds of people took refuge in emergency shelters.
If it hits Florida late Saturday or Sunday as predicted, it would be the fourth hurricane to slam the state this season, a scenario unmatched in more than a century. Jeanne strengthened into a Category 3 storm Saturday, and Jack Beven, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, warned that a Category 4 storm with winds of at least 131 mph "is not out of the question."
Already blamed for the deaths of at least 1,100 people in Haiti, Jeanne was poised to slam some of the same areas hit by the earlier storms, potentially transforming still-uncleared piles of debris into deadly missiles. Meteorologists said the storm's outer bands could bring wind and heavy rain to Florida by Saturday afternoon and its expected northern turn could happen after the storm strikes land, sending Jeanne up and through east and central Florida.
Across Palm Beach County, residents frantically gathered last-minute supplies Saturday after awaking to a forecast that had Jeanne making a direct hit in less than 18 hours.
"I can imagine a lot of people here this morning started freaking out," said Lynn Tarrington of Lake Worth, who was leaving her home near the water. "Yesterday I was hoping we wouldn't lose power again and now I'm hoping I have a house left when I come back."
When the climate warms hurricanes tend to less frequent and less intense.
These things happen every now and then. It's not the first time and it won't be the last. From the 70's up til now, things have actually been calming down. Florida experienced 3 hurricanes in a single season both in 1926 and 1964.
We have not seen a major increase in hurricanes over the 20th century. There are high and low periods of hurricane activity. We seem to be in an active hurricane phase and there is really no telling how long it will last.