FREEPORT, Bahamas – Hurricane Jeanne (search) lashed the northern Bahamas (search) with fierce winds and torrential rains Saturday, shredding roofs and flooding neighborhoods in the country's second largest city before plowing into Florida.
Jeanne's eye made a direct hit on Abaco island (search). The Category 3 storm then whirled along the north coast of Grand Bahama island while thousands of people took refuge in shelters and homes with windows boarded shut.
The Grand Bahama airport was under water, as it was early this month following a devastating hit from Hurricane Frances.
"We have been inundated with reports of roofs blowing off and have been rescuing people from homes that are flooded or destroyed," said Alexander E. Williams, the chief emergency official on Grand Bahama island.
Some Freeport neighborhoods were submerged in six feet of water, said Matt Maura, spokesman for the Bahamas emergency agency. The 115 mph winds toppled power lines, and electricity and phone services were out in some areas.
"There has been significant damage," Maura said. "It's still not safe to go out."
There were no reports of deaths or serious injuries in the Bahamas, but the storm has been blamed for more than 1,500 deaths in Haiti.
Bahamian officials had urged people to evacuate low-lying homes and shelters were set up in schools and churches. More than 1,000 people rode out the storm in emergency shelters on Grand Bahama, officials said. About 700 others took refuge at a school in Marsh Harbor, a town on Abaco island.
A Category 3 storm has winds of 111 mph-130 mph and is accompanied by a storm surge of 9-12 feet. It can cause extensive damage.
Jeanne hit the Bahamas three weeks after the low-lying island chain took a beating from Frances, which killed two people and damaged thousands of homes. Frances toppled rows of power lines, flattened homes and uprooted trees during a two-day lashing of Grand Bahama.
Many homes have roofs patched with plastic sheeting, and some homeless residents are still living with relatives or neighbors. Saturday's winds kicked up furniture, appliances and debris littering roads since Frances struck.
The scene was similar in Florida where Jeanne made landfall early Sunday, striking the same stretch of coast ravaged by Frances a few weeks earlier. About 2 million people, from near the state's southern tip to the Georgia border, were urged to evacuate as Jeanne's sustained wind strengthened to 120 mph.
It was Florida's fourth hurricane of the season — an ordeal no state has faced since Texas in 1886.
Jeanne devastated parts of northern Haiti last weekend, causing flooding that has killed at least 1,500 people. Hundreds more were still missing after being hit by what was then a tropical storm. U.N. peacekeepers struggled Saturday to maintain order and distribute aid to the desperate survivors.
About 300,000 were homeless, most in the northwestern city of Gonaives, where the hungry looted at least one truck arriving with bottled water. Argentine troops fired into the air — to no avail.
Before it hit Haiti, Jeanne lashed the neighboring Dominican Republic, where 24 died, and Puerto Rico, where seven died.
The repeated hurricanes have disrupted tourism in the Bahamas, which the government says accounts for more than half the jobs in the country of 300,000. Some hotels damaged by Frances remain closed.