Florida in the bulls-eye once again

PENSACOLA, Fla. – The Marine Industries Association of South Florida put its Flotilla Plan into effect at 11 a.m. this morning in conjunction with the Broward County Sheriff’s Dept. as Hurricane Jeanne moved slowly toward the state’s eastern shore.

The plan calls for police escorts to help shepherd groups of boaters up Florida’s New River to find safe harbor from the storm, MIASF Executive Director Frank Herhold said in a phone interview this morning.

With the boaters traveling as a group, bridges that span the river only need to open once instead of multiple times, helping to speed up the evacuation process for all concerned.

“We’re hoping for the best but preparing for the worst,” Herhold said. “We’re taking [Hurricane Jeanne] very seriously. We’re in the bulls-eye once again.”

As the state continues its recovery efforts from Hurricane’s Charley, Frances and Ivan, Jeanne is building in the Atlantic and currently on a course that could lead it onto Florida’s east coast as soon as Sunday.

The storm, which is now moving through the Bahamas, has sustained winds of 100 mph and is moving west toward Florida, according to a story this morning from the Bloomberg news service.

A five-day forecast from the National Hurricane Center said Jeanne – currently a Category 2 hurricane – could intensify over the next day or two and its center could touch the north-central Florida coast at approximately 2 p.m. Sept. 26, then head northeast to come ashore near the North Carolina-South Carolina border early Sept. 28.

The storm then may track into the Atlantic off Chesapeake Bay, according to the Bloomberg story.

If Jeanne does strike Florida, it would mark the first time the state has been hit by four hurricanes in one season since record keeping began, Bloomberg reported.

“Since 1851, in the hurricane center’s official records, we’ve never seen four hurricane strikes on Florida,” meteorologist Eric Blake told Bloomberg.

Blazer bounces back

Blazer Boats’ manufacturing facility received only minor damage, including some interior water damage, when Hurricane Ivan landed a direct hit on the city of Pensacola, Fla., last week, the company said yesterday in a press release.

But the company’s good fortune was not shared by much of the city, which sustained heavy damage over a widespread area, including the collapse of a stretch of the Interstate 10 bridge – located just a few miles from the site of Blazer’s plant.

“Our primary concern is for the safety of our employees and their families, some of whom have lost everything,” said Keith Craft, owner and president of Blazer Boats. “While damage to our facility is limited, damage to Pensacola’s infrastructure, including phone and cable lines, roads, and electricity is extensive.”

That damage has delayed the production of Blazer’s bass and bay boats as utility crews work to restore power throughout the city. But the company said it expects to be back in production within the next week.

“We continue to receive encouraging words of support from both our customers and network of dealers,” said owner and Vice President Lonnie Craft. “We are anxious to get back to what we love doing most – building boats.”

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