Charley Cleanup 'Organized Chaos'

President Bush and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, look at the damaged homes of Punta Gorda residents. AP

The remnants of Hurricane Charley are pushing out over the north Atlantic tonight but the tally of the storm's wrath in Florida continues to add up.

Officials say at least 16 were killed in the hurricane, and overall damage estimates could top more than $20 billion.

One relief worker described the relief effort in Punta Gorda, the hardest hit spot, as "organized chaos," reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann.

Two days into this recovery, the calamity still dwarfs the response.

Charley's damage to insured property alone runs as high as $11 billion, and hundreds of people remain missing.

In Lee County, 250,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

In Charlotte County, Charley blew away 31 mobile home parks.

Just two months after learning she has cancer, Mickie Goddard lost her trailer home, and with it, everything she had.

"I just wanted to die," she says.

There are so many problems. Looters are looking for food. Every need is frustrated by long lines.

Judy True says she rode out Charley cowering under a mattress, because nobody told her to evacuate.

"By the time we knew... that were in trouble," she says, "it was way too late to evacuate."

When Charley hit, all of Florida was under a statewide hurricane warning. But evacuations are county decisions.

By late Thursday evening, part but not all of Charlotte County was under a mandatory evacuation order. The storm seemed headed further north. Then on Friday, at 2 p.m., the National Hurricane Center startled Charlotte County. Charley was shifting in the last minute and heading their way - not to Tampa Bay. At 3:45 p.m., Charley hit Charlotte County's barrier islands and moved for the mainland.

By then, many people here say it was too late to leave. Hurricane forecasters say the warnings were out there for days.

"People knew we had a dangerous hurricane out there... so word certainly got out," says Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center.

Mickie Goddard's daughter thinks many people heard the warning, but simply didn't listen.

"We didn't think we were going to get what we got. And we're sitting in the kitchen watching the patio blow away," says daughter Carol Marlet. "Then it hits you, we better go somewhere in the closet."

For those returning to their homes and for rescue crews in Florida, Sunday was another long day of assessing damage and searching for survivors - a mission that could take months, reports CBS News Correspondent Kelly Cobiella.

Rescue crews are still making their way from home to home, and hundreds of people remain unaccounted for. Most may have simply left at the last minute, but crews want to make sure no one's left behind.

The search has already led to one surprising discovery.

"I got word this morning a woman was found hiding in her closet," says Lt. Donna Roguska of the Charlotte County Sheriff's Department. "She thought the storm was still going on."

Now that they've survived the storm, people are learning how to live in its aftermath.

Power is slowly coming back on but that doesn't much matter for the people who've lost their homes. It's ice and water they want. Private relief groups are their best hope.

The hardest part has been reaching people. Debris still blocks many streets, keeping relief trucks away. Many people don't want to leave their homes, no matter how badly damaged.

The Red Cross expects to spend at least $31 million - and several months - helping Charley's victims recover.

President Bush went to Florida Sunday to take a look at the damage Charley left behind, reports CBS News Correspondent Joie Chen.

Even before many residents were allowed back into their own homes, President Bush headed to Punta Gorda for his own first hand look, getting a bird's eye view from his helicopter and a quick briefing from his brother the governor and local leaders.

Consoling those who have lost everything, Mr. Bush assured devastated residents that help is on the way.

"The government's job is to help people re-build their lives and that's what's happening," he said.

Even before the storm hit, the president declared four counties disaster areas to speed federal money to victims. But that quick response fueled suspicion that he is using disaster politics to help his campaign in one of the most critical battleground states, a notion the president dismissed Sunday.

"Yeah, and if I didn't come they'd have said he should have been here more rapidly," Mr. Bush said.

The president is trying not to repeat his father's mistakes. After Hurricane Andrew flattened parts of south Florida in 1992, state officials blamed the first President Bush for not answering their calls for help quickly enough, and trying to make up that by overcompensating later.

It's a lesson the current president and political analysts have not forgotten.

"President Bush Sr. put so much money into the state after Hurricane Andrew that he was accused of buying votes in that election. So there is potential that the president could float so much money into Florida that people would say that's political opportunism," says political analyst Craig Crawford.

There's still plenty of opportunity for missteps in the "disaster politics" ahead. Charley was just the first major storm in a hurricane season that will continue right up to the November elections.

Tropical Storm Earl is menacing the eastern Caribbean.

It is moving swiftly to the west and is expected to gain hurricane strength as it heads on a path that could take it into the Gulf Of Mexico by Friday.

Hurricane Danielle, in the eastern Atlantic, is not expected to be a threat.
  • Raksha Shetty

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