PERDIDO BEACH, Fla. – Ivan leapt past its recent predecessors Friday to become the deadliest American hurricane since Floyd in 1999. The storm’s U.S. death toll rose to 33 as it carved its slow, wet, brutal signature on the Southeast, dropping heavy rain and causing floods from northern Alabama to Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains.
More than 1.8 million people were without power in nine states, and basic necessities were in such short supply on the shaken Florida Panhandle that the National Guard was marshaled to hand out food and water. Peanut and cotton farmers pondered their ruin in rain-soaked Georgia, toppled trees and flooding were major concerns in Virginia, and funeral directors were working in seven states.
Ivan’s damaging rains have landed on huge tracts of land already made soggy by either Frances, which struck earlier this month, or Charley, which hit last month – or both.
“It’s sad,” said Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “I don’t know quite why we’ve had this run of storms. You just have to accept that.”
By Friday evening, nine tornadoes spun off by Ivan had touched down in Virginia, pushing the storm’s tally of twisters, which have destroyed hundreds of homes in Florida and Georgia, to more than 20. Virginia Gov. Mark Warnerdeclared the third state of emergency in three weeks.
Heavy rainfall was expected to continue across the state today, causing flooding in low-lying areas and near waterways. Officials warned of flooding in spots where it doesn’t normally occur because of drenched ground and said the rain would cause mudslides in areas with steep terrain.
The misery is being wrought by the remnants of a hurricane that seemed incomprehensible only a few weeks ago, when it was a baby tropical storm far off in the Caribbean.
Now, as Ivan lurches northward, another storm – Jeanne – is forming in the Caribbean and worrying many that it will follow Charley, Frances and Ivan to Florida. Jeanne’s projected track has drifted slightly east, away into the Atlantic, but the east coast of Florida remains in the National Hurricane Center’s range of possible landfall points.
Some of the worst flooding was in North Carolina, where at least eight deaths are blamed on the storm.
Farms were battered throughout the South, but nowhere worse than Georgia, where the peanut and cotton crops are in perilous condition. Many fields are flooded, and growers are hoping that the waters will recede soon enough to let them get into the fields and harvest before more storms arrive.