WASHINGTON – The Federal Emergency Management Agency (search) is mobilizing three times as many disaster relief workers for Hurricane Frances (search) as it did for Hurricane Charley (search) last month.
FEMA director Michael Brown said he's put out calls for emergency crews from as far away as Seattle and Oregon. He expects to have about 4,500 personnel assisting with recovery efforts in Florida after Frances hits land.
An additional 1,500 staffers will continue their work with victims of Charley, which devastated parts of the state's western coast just three weeks ago — killing 27 people and causing billions of dollars in damage.
"We have not had, in a long time, a double whammy of a hurricane like this," said Brown.
In an interview Thursday, Brown said he was especially worried about the thousands of victims of Charley getting hit again by Frances.
Frances weakened slightly to a Category 3 storm, but it slowed from 13 mph to 9 mph early Friday, a potentially ominous sign.
"The hurricane has slowed down, so everyone is worried. That usually means the hurricane is strengthening," said Gerald Sawyer, president of the Bahamas Red Cross.
On its current track, Frances would make landfall on Florida's eastern coast as early as Friday night, then possibly cut across the state and slam some of the same areas devastated by Charley, said National Hurricane Center meteorologist Jennifer Pralgo.
Forecasters also said Frances could regenerate in the Gulf and cut up toward the Florida Panhandle or Alabama.
More than one million Florida residents have been told to evacuate ahead of Frances, which could be the most powerful storm to hit the state in a decade.
For their safety, FEMA has pulled most of its workers out of Florida and sent them to its regional office in Atlanta until it's safe to return. They'll move back in "the minute that Frances gets out of our way, so that we're just trailing in right behind her," said Brown.
FEMA is accustomed to dealing with a number of disasters at the same time, but "what's unique about this is that we're working multiple disasters right in the same state," said Brown.
Four disaster medical assistance teams, consisting of about 85 doctors, nurses and other workers, have been put on standby, he said. Search and rescue teams were also activated, and food, water, blankets, tents and other supplies were being assembled.
The agency went to "level one" status — its highest alert level — on Monday, as Frances showed no sign of fizzling out, said Brown. Soon after that, conference calls began with state and local officials in Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and elsewhere. He said there could be evacuations as far away as Tennessee because of flooding from the storm.