Tempers Fray In Storm-Torn Florida

President Bush, right, carries a sack of ice as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush carries a case of water to distribute to victims of Hurricane Frances at an emergency relief center in Ft. Pierce in Port St. Lucie county, Florida, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004. Standing with them are unidentified rescue officials. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) AP

Thousands of residents desperate to return home after fleeing Hurricane Frances ignored Florida officials' pleas to stay put Tuesday, jamming highways, delaying emergency workers and causing tempers to flare in the sticky heat.

One man was so desperate for ice that he shot the lock off a freezer. Fights broke out in some places. Drivers waited for hours to fill up their gas tanks. More than 1,000 cars coiled around several blocks in Stuart as a distribution center watched over by National Guardsmen offered water, ice and ready-to-eat meals.

Part of the problem is the size of the storm, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan. Although Hurricane Charley was more powerful, Frances was bigger, and damage is spread from one coast to the other. Two days after the storm passed, just getting a hot meal remains an adventure.

"We all want the same things and we're all trying to get the same things," Palm Beach Gardens official Kara Irwin said. "Just everyone keep your head up and we'll pull through this together."

For the second time in less than a month, President Bush visited Florida to survey hurricane damage, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.

The president visited a local stadium in Fort Pierce, where he handed out relief supplies, reports CBS News Correspondent Peter King. That stadium has been turned into a huge distribution center, and Mr. Bush actually did a fair amount of "heavy lifting, putting food, water and ice into people's cars, asking people how they're doing, that sort of thing," reports King.

Mr. Bush was in the state in August after Charley ravaged parts of the state, and it goes without saying that he wants to be seen showing concern for the state that decided the 2000 election — and could do the same this year. Mr. Bush this week urged Congress to act quickly on his request for an additional $2 billion in disaster relief for Florida and other hard hit states.

For many, help cannot come soon enough, especially with Ivan possibly hitting Florida late this weekend.

"Everyone's hot, everyone's sweating so much at night that nobody can sleep. Everyone's tossing and turning. The kids keep crying. I can't take no more of this. Nobody can take this," said Maria Sanchez, 26, who waited more than 90 minutes with her four children to get supplies in Stuart, about 35 miles north of West Palm Beach.

While many began removing debris, clearing downed trees and mopping up the water in their homes, weary Floridians looked over their shoulder at another hurricane several days away in the Atlantic. Ivan could become the third hurricane to hit the state this year, though it was too soon to determine the storm's exact path. The storm made a direct hit on Grenada on Tuesday, thrashing concrete homes into piles of rubble and uprooting trees and utility poles.

"It almost seems like we've got a 'kick me' sign on the state here," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

As many Floridians went home for the first time since Frances battered the state Sunday, traffic on parts of Interstate 95, the major highway along the Atlantic coast, was double the usual levels in some areas. Federal Emergency Management Agency workers trying to reach Martin County on the southeast coast got stuck in traffic.

"At a couple of these intersections, it's almost gone to blows between the motorists, said Fort Lauderdale Police Sgt. Alfred Lewers.

About 3 million Floridians were told it could take up to a week to restore power to all of them, with the longest wait for Daytona Beach. That was bad news with high humidity and temperatures hovering around 90 degrees.

"None of the stores have anything that you need. There is no bread to be found, no ice or water. I'm lucky I got gas this morning," Serafina Ferreira said at a relief site in West Palm Beach, where lines stretched for miles.

St. Lucie County administrator Doug Anderson said: "We had some fights break out already today. We are asking the public to please be patient and neighborly. We are all in this together."

Palm Beach County officials reported at least 300 arrests, estimating about 75 percent were for violating curfew.

Frances hit a wide swath of Florida's east coast early Sunday with winds of 105 mph and more than 13 inches of rain, ripping off roofs and flooding streets up to 4 feet deep. It weakened into a tropical storm before sweeping into the Panhandle on Labor Day, causing little damage there.

The storm's remnants dumped heavy rain Tuesday in Georgia and Alabama, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands and closing schools, while numerous tornadoes were reported in the Carolinas. The storm and its remnants were blamed for at least 19 deaths in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, in addition to two earlier in the Bahamas.

Forecasters received more than 30 reports of tornadoes in South Carolina alone. A small area in Sumter County may have been hardest hit, with about 30 homes damaged and three people injured.

In North Carolina's foothills, officials plan to keep watching the rivers and stopping drivers, and hope they can get through this storm without losing anyone to the water, reports Steve Ohnesorge of CBS affiliate WBTV.

Florida's farmers and citrus growers saw groves full of damaged fruit and inundated fields, with some cattle standing in water up to their bellies. The state's entire grapefruit crop could be lost, said Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, with as much as $800 million to $1 billion worth of Florida agriculture lost.

Frances made landfall in the heart of the Indian River Citrus District on the Atlantic Coast where most of Florida's $205 million grapefruit crop is grown, and cut through nearly half the states farms.

There was good news. Houses seemed to stand up better than they did in 145-mph Charley, which destroyed or severely damaged more than 30,000 homes. Still, nearly 13,000 people were still in shelters in Florida.

"If Ivan comes this way, we are just going to pack and move to Brazil," said Regina Brown, a native of the South American country who fled Frances to Alabama and Georgia.
  • Lloyd Vries

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