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2004-09-03 21:27:46

Hurricane Frances Pummels Bahamas; Man Dies

As Frances pounded the Bahamas, its top wind fell to 115 mph from 145 mph a day earlier. And its march toward Florida slowed to 8 mph.

Associated Press

NASSAU, Bahamas - Hurricane Frances battered the main tourist hub in the Bahamas on Friday, unleashing deadly winds that shattered windows in skyscrapers, toppled trees and set off scattered looting. One man was electrocuted in the storm.

Streets were almost deserted in Nassau, the capital on New Providence Island, which is home to more than two-thirds of the island nation's 300,000 people. Many boarded up their homes and hunkered down inside to ride out the expansive storm that was headed toward Florida.

Fallen trees, debris and downed satellite dishes littered roads and power was knocked out in many parts of the city. At least three boats were destroyed. There were scattered reports of looting, police said, including one man who broke into a Texaco gas station and another who was arrested for stealing appliances.

The hurricane's maximum sustained winds had dropped from 145 mph to 115 mph, prompting forecasters to downgrade it to a Category 3.

Kenrad Delaney, 18, was electrocuted in Nassau on Friday morning while filling a generator with diesel, police said. The family heard a scream and found him lying on the floor. He died after being taken to the hospital, police said.

The U.S. Embassy in Nassau evacuated about 200 non-emergency employees and their families as Frances neared.

Gusts of 84 mph whipped through the city streets and downpours already were pelting the second commercial center of Freeport on Grand Bahama Island, where emergency administrator Alexander E. Williams said about 600 people had checked in to shelters.

The storm was forecast to make a direct hit on Freeport later Friday or early Saturday. Street signs were already blowing off poles and palms were bending in the strong gusts. Officials urged all residents to stay inside.

Unlike Nassau, Freeport has fewer skyscrapers and its buildings are better built. Officials, however, warned of potential damage to wooden homes and coastal areas.

Police drove through low-lying neighborhoods urging people to evacuate.

Gordon King said he planned to stay in his boarded-up home in Freeport, even though it was only about 5 feet above sea level.

"I hope it's strong. It's been through a couple of hurricanes," said the 36-year-old cook. "If things get bad, I'll probably go inland."

About 20 evacuees - half of them children - dozed on pews in the Central Zion Baptist Church outside Freeport.

"I'm trying to save myself. I'm scared," said Elianise Jean, a 40-year-old Haitian immigrant who came with her six children. She brought blankets but no food.

Meanwhile, tourists at the 2,300-room Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, outside of Nassau, were told to leave their rooms and stay in a conference room. No structural damage had been reported, but the hotel's landscape suffered significant damage.

"I came for a week of sunshine and beaches in the Bahamas and can't believe this is happening," said Jo Pain, 37, of London. "It's frightening. The rain is pelting down, the winds are incredible and it's so loud out there."

Telephones lines on the southern islands of Abaco, Mayaguana and Acklins were lost.

The hurricane hit the sparsely populated southeastern Bahamas on Thursday.

Fifteen-foot waves and winds of 120 mph were reported on San Salvador Island, which is home to more than 900 people, but no major damage or deaths were reported. Electricity and phone services were down on Long Island, which has about 3,000 residents.

Emergency officials said the roof of a high school on Long Island had been ripped off and residents were reporting severe damage to crops.

Cruise ships were diverted out of Frances' path and many beachfront hotels were evacuated across the chain of more than 700 islands.

Nassau's Doctors Hospital treated about 40 people who suffered minor injuries during preparations for Frances in recent days, said Charles Sealy, vice president of operations.

As the hurricane passed, patients and staff member were playing board games and singing on a karaoke machine, Sealy said.

Sixteen doctors were on duty during the hurricane at Freeport's Rand Memorial Hospital and two other clinics, with 40 more doctors on call for work as soon as the winds passed and it was safe for ambulances to go out, administrator Sharon Williams said.

Frances brushed past Crooked Island and Acklins Island - home to about 1,100 people - late Thursday, knocking out power and phones but doing only minimal damage, said Alfred Gray, the agriculture and fisheries minister.

Officials said Frances also left only minor damage in the Turks and Caicos Islands on Wednesday, damaging more than a dozen houses. One woman was rescued when her roof blew off, but the hurricane's eye missed the heart of the British territory.

At 5 p.m. Friday, the hurricane's eye was about 90 miles east-southeast of Freeport and 200 miles east-southeast of Florida, moving west-northwest at 8 mph.

A hurricane warning was up for most of Florida's east coast, stretching more than 300 miles. About 2.5 million residents were told to clear out - the biggest evacuation request in the state's history.

Forecasters said the brunt of the hurricane could begin to hit Florida early Saturday, less than three weeks after Hurricane Charley raked Florida's western coast with 145 mph winds, causing billions of dollars in damage and killing 27 people.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard was searching for a Fort Lauderdale-bound pleasure boat that made a distress call about 12 miles west of Bimini in the Bahamas.

Three people were reported to be aboard the boat stuck in 9-foot swells.

Associated Press writers Adam Jankiewicz in Nassau and Ian James in Freeport contributed to this report.

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