Florida Cleans Up Frances' Mess

Tim Trese of Melbourne Beach, Fla., salvages belonging Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004, from a condo after winds from Hurricane Frances ripped out the walls. (AP Photo/Florida Today, Craig Rubadoux) AP

Traffic from returning evacuees has subsided, long lines for gas have shortened and billions of dollars in federal aid will soon flow for afflicted Florida residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Frances.

But as President Bush toured the damage along Florida's Atlantic coast on Wednesday, many residents said it will take months to ease the anxieties of rebuilding their homes and their lives.

"Look at this," said Gloria Serrano, who toured her mother-in-law's damaged West Palm Beach mobile home. "There's no water, there's no electricity, there's sewage on the ground and there are trees on my mother-in-law's roof. I'm very worried."

"There are a lot of supplies on their way, and a lot of supplies already here," Dave Bruns of the Florida Division of Emergency Management told CBS Radio News. "Virtually every one of the 48 lower states is rushing aid and assistance to Florida. We very much appreciate it."

Promising relief to a state hammered by back-to-back hurricanes, President Bush toured the area by helicopter, handed out bags of ice and bottled water in Fort Pierce and visited the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Mr. Bush signed a $2 billion disaster relief package for victims of both Frances and Charley, which caused an estimated $6.8 billion in damages in southwest Florida last month and was blamed for at least 27 deaths.

The president, who was joined by his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said he would seek additional funding to rebuild infrastructure and provide disaster loan assistance to businesses and homeowners.

"We're working as hard as we can to get them the supplies they need. That's what we're here for," President Bush said.

It was a morale boost for the thousands still waiting in long lines for basic necessitates and a comfort to those with one eye on the current damage and another on Hurricane Ivan, which poses yet another Florida threat, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan. But not everyone was impressed with the visit.

"I'm not voting for him. I don't care what he does," said Betty Reed.

State officials said about 1.4 million homes and businesses were without power Wednesday, or less than three million people. It could be early next week before power is restored statewide.

Residents continue to piece together the remains of their homes. At a Wal-Mart Super Center in West Palm Beach, a full parking lot was a sign of the bustling activity inside, where people bought large plastic trash bags, wet and dry vacuums and large plastic storage bins.

Paula and Cliff Matthews of Riviera Beach were buying bins to hold the few personal items and any important papers they could salvage. With three children, the couple has contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross for housing.

"We have to move. The ceiling fell in, there is water in all the light fixtures and it just isn't safe," said Paula Matthews.

Frances left an estimated at $2 billion to $4 billion in insured damages and left at least 15 dead in the state.

The storm struck a wide stretch of Florida's east coast early Sunday with winds of 105 mph and more than 13 inches of rain, peeling off roofs and flooding streets. It then moved across the state, into the Gulf of Mexico and hit northwest Florida as a strong, wet tropical storm before moving into Georgia and northward into the eastern United States.

The emergency money approved by the president would provide direct aid for families, debris removal, repairs and emergency food and shelter. Gov. Bush said the state and federal governments are sending a "massive amount of support," but added that "it's a logistical challenge that people have to keep in perspective. It isn't going to be done overnight."

Palm Beach County Commissioner Warren Newell said "we need more of everything" at the county's emergency distribution centers, where thousands of people have come for ice and water. He also said there was a problem with getting enough trucks in because of fuel shortages.
  • Lloyd Vries

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