COCOA BEACH, Fla. – From above it looks like a bright blue checkerboard, new tarps glistening in the hot and anything-but-arid central Florida sun. Their attachment to neighborhood roofs is as precarious as the trees that survived one recent hurricane and look to fight the impending Hurricane Frances (search).
Our FOX News crew gets one of the last flights in, and on the final approach over Orlando, passengers get restless as they realize the next 24 hours are going to be tedious, dangerous and nerve-racking for the millions who call this area of the country home.
As we leave the airport and head east toward Cocoa Beach and the coastline, we see large swaths of pine and palms snapped in half from the force of Hurricane Charley (search).
It seems at every corner and on every street there are still signs ripped off stores and homes that have piles of junk out front -- clean-up from just a few weeks ago.
The freeway heading west is a virtual parking lot. At one point we drive nearly 20 miles and all we see on the other side of the median is a blockade. Nothing moves at some points. Thankfully, we are still 24 hours away and people -- nearly 2.5 million -- are getting out ahead of time.
Once we reach the beach, windows are scarce. Every store, market and home has been boarded up. Some have bought expensive metal fronts that roll down over thresholds and windows, leaving a desolate and lonely feeling as we drive down deserted streets.
Floridians that we pass have their cars loaded down; gas stations have lines that resemble the mid '70s fuel crisis and everyone seems to have an opinion or theory of where Frances will go.
One man says to me, "you know we just had Charley a couple of weeks ago -- that was bad enough. At least this one we've got some warning."
Another friend tells me "my buddy built a special wing on his home, it's got masonite block with rebar wrapped inside. He then filled that with cement." He continues, "we sat through Charley and didn't feel or hear a thing. If Frances gets sticky, I'm taking my family over there and you're welcome to come along."
I thank him for his hospitality and then remind him I've got a crew and an assignment that has us near the shore -- safe, but prepared to get wet and wind-blown.