- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. (AP) — Urban rescue teams, insurance adjusters and National Guard troops scattered across Florida yesterday to help victims of Hurricane Charley and to deliver water and other supplies to thousands of people left homeless.

Tami Wilson, 45, of Port Charlotte, wiped away a tear after picking up ice and water from National Guardsmen at a “comfort station” in North Point. She and her husband, Dewaine, hadn’t had a shower or a hot meal since the storm hit.

“The hard part is not being able to bathe and not having food and water unless I go out and look for it. Last night, we almost gave up because it got so hot,” she said.

Florida had at least 17 storm-related deaths. Guy Tunnell, the chief of the state Department of Law Enforcement, said the 17th death occurred in a car accident yesterday, but he didn’t have details on how it was related to the storm. Earlier, Charley killed four persons in Cuba and one in Jamaica.

Authorities estimate that the storm caused as much as $11 billion in damage to insured homes in Florida and that about 2,300 people were in emergency shelters.

Nearly 1 million people remained without power yesterday, and officials said it could take weeks to get service fully restored. Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown said 11,000 people have applied for disaster aid.

Mr. Brown said it could take several weeks to find all the victims, and officials still had no count yesterday of how many people remained missing. Still, officials said early estimates of hundreds of people missing could be inflated owing to erroneous reports from worried relatives and friends.

“The fact that we have not found any more dead than we have is nothing short of a miracle,” Mr. Tunnell said.

In North Port, Darren Perreault sipped a cup of coffee outside the San Pedro Catholic Church activities center, thankful that he and his 14-year-old son, Daniel, had a place to spend the night.

“This is like heaven,” Mr. Perreault said. “Drive through Punta Gorda, you’ll see hell firsthand.”

In Punta Gorda, a retirement community of about 15,000 people that was among the hardest-hit areas, there was a half-hour wait for ice, water and portable commodes that the National Guard was handing out. The heat index topped 100 degrees.

Jessica Byrnes, a volunteer from Clearwater, held 4-month-old Brody Keener near an electric fan connected to a generator. The baby, dressed only in a diaper, managed a slight smile.

“He can’t keep anything down, it’s so hot,” said his cousin, Alyssa Thibodeau, who was baby-sitting as the boy’s parents sought out supplies. “We keep giving him ice water and washing him. He’s hanging in there.”

A few miles north in Bowling Green, several dozen people waited in a long line for food and supplies being distributed by the Salvation Army.

Mae Robinson hoped for a bag of ice and canned food and vegetables.

“I just want something to eat,” she said. “I have something for today, but I don’t have anything for tomorrow.”

After slamming into Florida with winds reaching 145 mph and a surge of seawater from 13 feet to 15 feet, Charley hit open ocean and made landfall again in South Carolina. It moved up the Eastern Seaboard as a tropical storm before being downgraded to a depression on Sunday.

Federal emergency officials said the state has requested catastrophic housing for 10,000 people, and more than 4,000 National Guard troops have been activated. Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings said 2,000 insurance adjusters were on the ground and 2,000 were on their way.

In Charlotte County, power was restored to two of the county’s three hospitals, and one of the hospitals planned to accept nonsurgical patients by tomorrow.

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