MIAMI -- Hurricane Frances was centered over San Salvador in the Bahamas late Thursday afternoon, approximately 400 miles from Floridas lower East Coast where it is expected to make landfall late Friday.

Fueled by 145 mph winds, Frances was set to cross over or near the central Bahamas Thursday evening. Storm surge flooding of six to 14 feet above normal tidal levels was expected, along with dangerous battering waves on the west side of Eleuthera and the north side of Grand Bahama Island.

All airports and seaports in the Bahamas are closed. Airlines cancelled flights to the region and instituted flexible rebooking policies to permit itinerary changes without charges for passengers scheduled to fly into or out of the Bahamas as well as a number of Florida destinations. Most carriers are offering rebooking without charge at least through Sept. 5. (See box below for rail service disruptions.)

Emergency officials in 10 Florida counties ordered mandatory evacuations in low-lying areas. More than 1.2 million people, mostly in South Florida, have been told to clear out ahead of the Category 4 storm.

Meanwhile, initial reports from the Turks and Caicos indicate that the storm veered just north of the eight inhabited islands of the 40-island archipelago, sparing the destination its first direct hit from a hurricane since 1944.

Although individual island reports from emergency coordinators were still being tallied, no human injuries or major structural damage to resorts were reported. There were many uprooted trees and downed power lines.

Chief minister Michael Misick said, We have reopened for business and look forward to welcoming our guests back once the airlines resume their flights.

Although Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort & Spa on Providenciales escaped major damage from Frances, the resort will be closed until Oct. 20 for minor landscaping improvements. Guests will be accommodated at alternate Beaches resorts in Jamaica.

The resort evacuated guests to Jamaica as a precaution before the storm arrived. Beaches Blue Chip Hurricane Guarantee offered free replacement vacations, including air fare, to guests affected by the storm. This equates to more than $1 million that has been paid out in replacement vacations so far this hurricane season, which officially ends Nov. 30.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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