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Florida takes hit from hurricane No. 4

Lightning strikes twice, as Jeanne comes ashore within a few miles of where Frances did

Lightning strikes twice, as Jeanne comes ashore within a few miles of where Frances did

Donald Hannon rode out two hurricanes in three weeks at a dock just below Hutchinson Island, Fla., where, remarkably, both Frances and Jeanne came ashore within a few miles of each other.

“I got my butt kicked this time,” says Hannon.

Jeanne churned ashore with 120-mph winds, and powerful gusts kept flexing the big windshield of Hannon’s 1969 58-foot Chris-Craft motoryacht, Thunderbird, until finally he opened a wheelhouse door and the window just popped out.

“I tried to cover it with a tarp in 100-mph winds,” Hannon says. By the time he plugged the breach, the wheelhouse was blown apart inside, and the driving rain had soaked the sole and damaged the wallpaper of the vintage aluminum-hulled Roamer Riviera.

“It was a battle all night long,” says the charter captain, who lives aboard at Blowing Rocks Marina in Tequesta. “This one was a doozy.”

He says he was too tired and “pissed” to be scared. That seemed the attitude of many Floridians as they weathered their fourth hurricane in six weeks. Charley made landfall at Sanibel on the west coast Aug. 13, with crushing 140-mph winds. Frances blew across Hutchinson Island on the southeast coast Sept. 5 as an excruciatingly slow-moving 85-mph storm. Ivan ripped into Pensacola Beach on the Panhandle Sept. 16, with a 100-mph blast. And Jeanne roared ashore Sept. 25, almost perfectly replicating Frances’ path, landing at Hutchinson Island, crossing northwest across the state, and brushing Tampa.

“You don’t think you’re going to get hit twice by lightning,” says Marc Phillips, manager of Halifax Harbor Marina in Daytona Beach. Halifax Harbor suffered blows from three hurricanes this season — Charley, Frances and Jeanne. Nestled into two basins on the Halifax River, the marina escaped much damage.

The conventional wisdom has been that hurricanes turn and miss Daytona Beach. No one believes that anymore, Phillips says. There is hardly an area of the state that hasn’t been touched by one this season.

From Daytona Beach north, Florida’s east coast marinas looked to be in pretty good shape after Jeanne. From Titusville south to Fort Pierce, though, exposed marinas on the long, wide Indian River suffered a devastating double punch from Frances and then Jeanne, as winds from the storms’ powerful north quadrant rumbled up the coast.

“[Many] of the marinas on the [mainland] shore of the Intracoastal Waterway from Titusville to Fort Pierce are done,” says Tom Nelson, owner of Melbourne Harbour Marina, which escaped heavy damage again, partly because it is tucked into a protected basin off the ICW. Nelson says the combination of wind, 5- to 6-foot waves on the Indian River, and a surge that flooded waterfront towns and eroded parts of scenic Highway A1A turned docks into kindling.

Among the marinas destroyed or heavily damaged, Nelson says, are Capt. Hiram’s Marina Resort in Sebastian, Intracoastal Marina in Melbourne, Diamond 99 Marina south of Cocoa, Titusville Municipal Marina, and Fort Pierce Municipal Marina in Fort Pierce. He says snowbirds southbound on the Indian River will have to look carefully and make reservations ahead of time. “There are not a lot of choices,” he says.

Stuart and Martin County, pounded by Frances’ eye wall and then Jeanne’s, took the hardest hit. “Everything got damaged pretty good in Frances,” says Vera Locke, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast. “Whatever was left standing got beat up even more.”

She says a work shed at the Taylor Creek Marina blew down, and Stuart Harbor Marina is “pretty well trashed.” The city’s Southpoint mooring field, where some 40 boats broke loose during Frances, took another hit. “There’s a great big sailboat — a 40- or 45-footer — laying sideways in a back yard near my office,” she says. “It probably broke loose from the anchorage.”

Locke describes herself and others as “numb” after two hurricanes. “My head was still reeling from the first one,” she says.

South of Stuart in Palm Beach County, Bill Yeargin, a vice president at the Rybovich-Spencer boatyard in West Palm Beach, says Jeanne left its mark, but it was a smaller and much faster-moving storm than Frances, and caused less damage. “The brevity of it helped a lot,” he says.

Jeanne took a terrible human toll in the Caribbean, leaving more than 1,500 dead in Haiti, where heavy rains caused massive mudslides and flooding. A Category 3 hurricane when it reached the Bahamas, Jeanne’s surge swamped the Abacos. News reports out of Marsh Harbour say all but one marina there were destroyed, and Locke says a friend — Clay Wilhoyte, owner of Harbor’s Edge Restaurant on Elbow Cay — reports “not a dock left in Hopetown harbor.”

It appeared Jeanne might bypass Florida until it slammed into high pressure east in the Atlantic, where it dawdled awhile, backtracked, made a loop, and headed west. “We thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. This thing’s got to go north,’ ” says Locke. It didn’t.

In its trek across Florida, Jeanne pummeled marinas on Lake Okeechobee, including Everglades Adventure Marina, where 20 boats sank. Exiting near Tampa as a tropical storm, Jeanne still packed enough punch to damage docks at the Tampa Bay Marina. At Davis Island Yacht Club, manager Linda Rodgers says the club came though OK, but Jeanne blew 15 boats ashore at a nearby anchorage.

Locke sums it up this way: “This season has been unbelievable.”