Everyone leads with the aftermath of Hurricane Frances in Florida, where five million were without electricity on Sunday in a state that lay soaked and tattered. Frances—now downgraded to a 70 mph tropical storm and moving into the Gulf of Mexico—ripped the roofs from thousands of homes, flooded roadways, and left everything covered in debris. At roughly 400 miles in diameter, it was a far larger and wetter storm than Aug. 13’s Charley, but its winds were weaker. So, despite the storm’s possible $10 billion price tag (the three-week grand total could reach $40 billion), officials were relieved the damage wasn’t worse.
“If Hurricane Charley was a first-round heavyweight knockout, Hurricane Frances is turning into a 15-round middleweight fight,” said Orange County Chairman Richard Crotty. Frances dumped between 6 inches and 14 inches of rain on the Sunshine State, leaving some areas sitting in four feet of water. The power outages, road damage, and flooding stranded thousands of relief workers and cut many residents off from gasoline and food supplies. Nor is the coast clear: Not only might Frances rev back up to hurricane strength as it crosses the Gulf toward the panhandle, but another big Hurricane—Ivan—is gaining steam in the central Atlantic and could be following in Frances’ wake.
Except the Los Angeles Times, which reefers it, the papers continue with front-page coverage of the Russian school attacks in Breslan, where the official death toll remains at 338. The Washington Post’s account focuses on the Kremlin’s uncharacteristic admission that it lied about the severity of the crisis as it was happening. The state-controlled news station—which does nothing without permission—broadcast a discussion of the false claim that only 354 hostages had been taken (there were 1,200). But, the WP points out, the network was still no paragon of truth: It acknowledged nothing about the militants’ demands to end the war in Chechnya and failed to address both the government’s conflicting statements about how many militants might be at large and why the death toll wasn’t rising when 200 people were still unaccounted for.
The militants had an extremely detailed and sophisticated plan, the New York Times reports: “They carried gas masks, compasses and first-aid kits. They communicated with hand-held radios, and brought along two sentry dogs, as expertly trained as the attackers themselves.” They also appeared to know the school’s grounds exceedingly well. The article goes on to give a brief but informative primer on the Chechen war for independence, which did not involve terror attacks until relatively recently.
In a front-page scoop, the LAT reports that American authorities in Iraq might exclude “hotspots” from the upcoming elections, since violence in those places would make an organized process impossible. “We’d have elections before we let one place like Fallujah stop [national] elections,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, the No. 2 U.S. military official in Iraq. The article notes that if certain cities did not participate, the credibility of the elections might be questioned, which could worsen antigovernment feeling.
The LAT also fronts an article with the clever slug “A Trailing Kerry Has Been There, Won That,” which compares the current presidential race to Kerry’s 1996 senate bid against William Weld, the popular governor of Massachusetts. Behind in the polls with two months to go, Kerry got aggressive by replacing top campaign personnel, busting through spending caps, and ferociously defending his war record. He beat Weld handily.
On that note, not only is Kerry now taking “expansive” election advice from Bill Clinton (who will have his bypass surgery on Monday), he’s actually hiring a bunch of Clinton’s old campaign dynamos. The WP and NYT report that Clinton, from his hospital bed, advised Kerry to move away from his record in Vietnam and toward George Bush’s record in America and Iraq. And though the new hires include James Carville, Paul Begala, and Stanley Greenberg, the Kerry organization was careful to note that it was not replacing staff, just augmenting it. The Associated Press—via USA Today’s web site—observes the Democrats insisting that Bush’s post-convention bounce will fade as they ratchet up their own offensive.
The WP fronts a feature on the poker phenomenon. The game has enjoyed an explosive resurgence in the last year—the industry estimates that “50 million to 80 million Americans” are now playing. (What is that, almost one in four? Yeah, right!) Poker, especially the variation called Texas Hold ‘Em, has been boosted back into the mainstream by a half-dozen new TV shows, a slew of new books, and an ever-growing stable of poker-playing celebs that now includes Ben Affleck and the great Lou Diamond Phillips. Sunday-night games are popping up in every garage, and virtual casinos have become insane cash cows. There’s so much hype that those industry guys can hardly keep a straight face.