Sun, Sep 26, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Bahamas brace for the arrival of Jeanne

AP , FREEPORT, BAHAMAS

Hundreds of people fled their homes and took refuge in shelters set up in schools and churches as Hurricane Jeanne bore down on the Bahamas yesterday with 160kph winds and torrential rain, threatening more destruction to an island chain still recovering from Hurricane Frances.

About 700 evacuees crowded into a school in the town of Marsh Harbor as Jeanne's outer winds and heavy rains began to lash Abaco island yesterday morning. It's expected to make a direct hit on Abaco and strengthen to a major hurricane before hitting Florida's southeast coast.

People waited in long lines at gas stations on Friday, crowded into stores to stock up on food and water, and rushed to secure plywood over their windows with Jeanne's forecast to tear through the northwest Bahamas on a projected path for Florida.

Others strapped tarpaulins over holes in roofs torn by Hurricane Frances.

"We expect two of our islands to get hit hard -- Abaco and Grand Bahama," said Jeffrey Simmons, a meteorologist at the Bahamas weather service.

Officials urged people to evacuate low-lying homes, and shelters opened on Abaco, Eleuthera and Grand Bahama -- where the nation's second-largest city of Freeport is located.

Jeanne was upon the Bahamas three weeks after the low-lying island chain took a beating from Frances, which killed two people and damaged thousands of homes. It toppled rows of power lines, flattened homes and uprooted trees during a two-day lashing of Grand Bahama island.

Many homes still have roofs patched with plastic sheeting, and some homeless residents are still living with relatives or neighbors.

Jeanne was headed for the Bahamas following a devastating hit as a tropical storm last weekend on Haiti, where floods killed more than 1,100 and left more than 1,250 missing. The southern Bahamian islands were under a storm warning when Jeanne brushed into the Atlantic, looped and headed west.

The hurricane was moving into the northwest Bahamas yesterday morning. At 5am local time, Jeanne was centered about 90km east of Great Abaco and 385km east of Florida's southeast coast. It was moving west at about 23kph.

Forecasters at the US National Hurricane Center in Miami said Jeanne was likely to strengthen to a major hurricane later yesterday. The storm was forecast to stir up dangerous surf and rip currents, and dump up to 25cm of rain.

Several cruise ships in the area were also diverted, and Grand Bahama's airport was closed on Friday night.

"We're shutting down every-thing," said Christina Williams, an employee at Great Abaco Beach Hotel. "All the guests left yesterday."

She said the only remaining guests were insurance adjusters who planned to ride out the storm.

The repeated hurricanes are disrupting tourism, which the government says accounts for more than half the jobs in this country of 300,000 people. Some hotels damaged by Francis remain closed.

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