Hurricane Jeanne played a cruel game of copycat this weekend, tracing almost the same course as Hurricane Frances, as it lapped at Florida's east coast with fierce, soggy gusts and forced one of the largest evacuation orders in the state's history.
The 120 mph sustained winds surrounding Jeanne's eye tore at this southeast Florida town and its neighbors to the north and south, knocking out power to more than 185,000 people, flooding beach roads and bending trees in areas battered by Frances three weeks ago. The center of the storm's tightly formed eye made landfall between Fort Pierce and Stuart around midnight Saturday, a remarkable repeat appearance of major hurricane-force winds in a region where as much as 80 percent of the debris from Frances has yet to be cleared.
"It's very, very rare," said T.N. Krishnamurti, a meteorologist at Florida State University.
Gusts as high as 145 mph were recorded late Saturday, at least one tornado sprouted, and the Associated Press reported that in Stuart a condominium roof collapsed and that a large chunk of roof lifted off a hospital. Jeanne, for all its similarities to Frances, is stronger and faster than its predecessor. It cascaded through the Bahamas early Saturday with 115 mph winds, flooding streets on Abaco Island and in the country's second-largest city, Freeport, on Grand Bahama Island.
The storm had dawdled in the Caribbean for days, even making a complete circle far from land after devastating Haiti, where more than 1,000 people were killed and riots have broken out because of food shortages. But Jeanne's quirky movements vanished Saturday as it bulked up, strengthening to Category 3 force and racing west toward Florida at 13 mph.
The quickening pace of Jeanne set off a frenzied response. Evacuation orders were issued Saturday morning -- less than 24 hours in advance of the storm -- for 1.2 million people, adding to the 800,000 affected by the orders the day before. But up and down 350 miles of Florida coast, officials complained that "hurricane fatigue" -- and the fears of some residents that they will be kept from their homes for days after the storm -- were responsible for a lackluster response to the evacuation orders. Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas scolded residents for their "complacency."
"It's tough to evacuate with two dogs and a cat," said Kevin Kinel of Sebastian, just north of Vero Beach, who drove across the state to Naples to escape Frances. "My wife wanted to evacuate again, but this time I insisted that we stay."
Jeanne's great width before coming ashore -- hurricane winds sprawled over 100 miles and tropical storm winds over nearly 400 miles -- darkened almost the entire east coast of Florida Saturday. Seas churned with 20-foot waves as far north as Jacksonville, Palm Beach mansions were locked down, and Miami Beach dance clubs disappeared behind metal shutters. Shelters swelled with people too poor to pay for hotels, too weary to flee or too scared to stay in homes left leaky and rancid by Frances.
The hallways at C.A. Moore Elementary School in Fort Pierce were packed so tightly with stacks of blankets serving as makeshift beds that the rain-soaked residents streaming inside had to walk single file to get through. The school, which has been closed since the days before Frances, had hoped to open next week. Not anymore.
Betty Williams, 57, sought refuge there after spending 20 days in a Fort Pierce house that Frances filled with murky water.
"It was like the storm was in the house," Williams said. "It's time to get to a better place."
All around her were neighbors in similar states of discomfort and anxiety. Albert Spears, an 82-year-old who spent his working life fixing city vehicles, abandoned a house in Fort Pierce that has only a big blue tarp for a roof. "I just didn't feel safe in there," he said.
Darlene Washington, 44, left behind a mildewy apartment -- not damaged enough for her to qualify for a federally provided temporary trailer home, not sound enough to give her a sense of security in another storm.
"In Frances, I was scared," she said. "I'm afraid the whole thing will come apart this time."
Florida is the first state since Texas 118 years ago to be hit by four hurricanes in a year. Jeanne is less intense than Charley, which blasted Florida's west coast with 140-mph winds in mid-August, or Ivan, which carried 130-mph winds to the Panhandle and southern Alabama. But its winds are expected to be at least 10 mph more potent than Frances's.
Jeanne's rapid pace could actually be a good sign because the storm is not expected to linger as long as Frances -- which for three days dumped rain on the state before turning north and heading toward coastal Georgia and the Carolinas.
But flooding is still a concern because Jeanne is projected to cross areas already saturated, most notably Orlando, which is forecast to get as much as 10 inches of rain after being drenched by Charley and Frances.
As Jeanne's outer bands began bashing at Florida's east coast Saturday, the pulsing St. John's River was already hurling spray across a road 20 feet away in Sanford, north of Orlando.
"It's a lot higher; it's a lot stronger. This is going to be a nasty storm," said Kim Batiste of nearby Lake Mary as she watched the river. Batiste saw a water moccasin swim toward her on the banks of the cresting river during Hurricane Frances.
"This one," she said, "is going to be much worse."
Roig-Franzia reported from Miami. Skipp is a special correspondent. Staff writer Shankar Vedantam in Sanford, Fla., and special correspondent Milton R. Benjamin in Vero Beach, Fla., contributed to this report.