After the biggest evacuation effort in Florida’s history, Hurricane Frances has finally begun to ravage the sunshine state cutting power to almost half a million homes, ripping yachts from their moorings and whipping Florida’s Atlantic coast with savage winds. The slow-moving storm promises to dump torrential rain on the state for up to 36 hours in what emergency officials said could be a “marathon” of anxiety and devastation. The storm’s main core was expected to hit late last night but stinging sand clouds and white waves were already whipping the beaches of Florida’s coast yesterday afternoon. “When it does come fully on shore, it’s going to really batter people for a long period of time. We still need to just hunker down,”said Max Mayfield, director of the US National Hurricane Centre. Hurricane Frances was reclassified from a level 4 to a level 2 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale late Friday night as 150 mph winds calmed, but experts have stressed the hurricane still has a huge potential to cause damage and have warned it may still get stronger. Florida Power & Light spokesman Bill Swank said 459,000 customers were already without power along Florida’s east coast and that the number was likely to rise, informs Sunday Herald. According to the Star, the outer bands of Hurricane Frances whipped Florida's coast with 145 km/h wind early today as the storm crawled across the Atlantic, bringing a potential for more than a foot of rain and heavy flooding as tens of thousands fled the area. Forecasters expected the storm to come ashore late today or early tomorrow, about a day later than earlier predictions, as residents prepared for the worst after a dragged-out process of stocking up on canned goods and water, putting plywood sheets over windows and finding shelter. The American Red Cross planned a larger relief operation than the one it conducted after Hurricane Andrew. Back then, the agency spent $81 million. Hurricane season usually peaks in early September, and the ninth named storm of the season grew stronger today in the far eastern Atlantic. Tropical Storm Ivan was about 2,700 kilometres east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles with winds of 96 km/h. Police banged on doors to wake up people whose homes flooded as Hurricane Frances tore through the Bahamas today with violent winds that ripped apart roofs, shattered windows and snapped trees. At least one man was electrocuted in the storm. Forecasters downgraded Frances to a Category 2 hurricane as its sustained winds dipped to 105 mph. But while the hurricane crept toward Florida at just 5 mph, there was still a chance it could strengthen again. Surging seawater flooded several neighbourhoods in the Freeport area on Grand Bahama Island, emergency administrator Alexander E. Williams said. “We’re hearing reports of flooding all over. We’re trying to move people to safety,” he said. Authorities had urged those in low-lying areas to evacuate yesterday, but some decided to stay put. About 1,100 people on Grand Bahama Island rode out the storm in shelters set up in churches and schools, said Williams, the emergency administrator. Similar shelters were open on other islands, and many Bahamians left vulnerable homes to move in with relatives. Meanwhile, the outer bands of Hurricane Frances whipped Florida’s coast with 90 mph winds early today as the storm crawled across the Atlantic, bringing a potential for more than a foot of rain and heavy flooding as tens of thousands fled the area, reports the Scotsman.
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