CBSN

$15B Storm Kills 16

President Bush and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, look at the damaged homes of Punta Gorda residents.
AP
As the remnants of Hurricane Charley disintegrated off the northeastern United States, Florida residents began the massive task of cleaning up from a storm estimated to cost $15 billion or more.

Florida officials raised the death toll to 16 from 13 on Sunday from the hurricane, the worst to hit the state in a dozen years.

President Bush flew over the most heavily damaged areas in a Marine helicopter Sunday before landing in Punta Gorda, a retirement haven of 15,000 people in southwestern Florida that was devastated by Charley.

"A lot of people's lives are turned upside down," Bush said after walking through Punta Gorda's streets.

The storm left thousands temporarily homeless. The Federal Emergency Management Agency declared 25 counties eligible for disaster aid.

"All the clothes that I've got now is just what I'm wearing now," one resident, George Nickols, told the president.

Lenida Caponera, who fled her home in the nearby town of Port Charlotte as the storm approached, returned to find it completely destroyed.

"You can go from house to house, it's all this way," she said as she picked up a pillowcase, one of the few things on her lawn she could find that was not ruined.

The Rev. Leroy Martin set up two dozen chairs and laid Bibles on them outside his small Punta Gorda church, unsure whether the darkened building was safe for services.

"I guess it is at a time like this when you realize the significance of spiritual values when everything else has blown away," Martin said.

From his helicopter, Bush — joined by his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — could see debris from trailer park homes strewn across green fields and roofs that had been torn off hangars at Charlotte County Airport, where he was briefed by officials coordinating recovery efforts.

Asked about why he made such a quick trip to Florida in this election year, Bush said: "Yeah, if I didn't come, they would've said we should have been here more rapidly."

CBS News Correspondent James Acosta says what's lost in all the destruction is why so many people stayed behind and did not heed storm warnings.

As a weakened Charley churned up the East Coast and was downgraded Sunday to a tropical depression, emergency officials pronounced it the worst hurricane to wallop Florida since Hurricane Andrew tore through in 1992. Twenty-six deaths were directly linked to Andrew, which caused $19.9 billion in insured property losses.

The luxury vacation haven of North Captiva Island, which can be reached only by air and boat, was divided in two by Charley's storm surge, creating a new inlet that appears to be several hundred meters (yards) long, Lee County spokesman Pat O'Rourke said. The island's main road was submerged, but the extent of damage to homes was not determined.

State officials said it was impossible to estimate the number of missing people, and downed power lines and debris made the task of searching for bodies "tedious and dangerous," said Mike McHargue, director of investigations for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

An initial damage estimate of $5 billion to $11 billion was based on the value of homes and insurance policies in the storm's path, said Tami Torres, a spokeswoman for state Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher. Uninsured homes, business losses and damage to automobiles were not included.

Thirty-one mobile-home parks in Charlotte County sustained major damage, some with more than 1,000 units, said Bob Carpenter, a sheriff's spokesman. He said teams were sent to each park to search for bodies and survivors, but "we just couldn't get the vehicles in — there is so much debris."

Earlier, Charley killed four people in Cuba and one in Jamaica.

Charley cut northeast across Florida, hit open ocean again and made landfall again at South Carolina's Grand Strand resort region Saturday. The weakened but still-powerful system moved into North Carolina and up the eastern seaboard.

Charley was downgraded from a tropical storm Sunday, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.

The storm hit Florida with stronger-than-expected force Friday, pummeling the coast with winds reaching 145 mph and a surge of sea water of 13 to 15 feet. As it crossed the state, the hurricane gutted oceanfront homes and trailer parks and knocked out power to an estimated 2 million people.

The storm devastated citrus groves, and could have a "huge impact" on this year's crop, said Andy LaVigne, chief executive of the trade group Florida Citrus Mutual. "Growers in these areas have seen their groves, barns, equipment and homes destroyed," he said.

Meanwhile, the fourth and fifth named storms of the Atlantic hurricane season were out at sea Sunday. Tropical Storm Danielle formed Friday and developed into a hurricane Saturday but was several days from land.

Tropical Storm Earl had sustained winds of 45 mph Sunday and was centered about 65 miles east-southeast of Grenada, prompting storm warnings for islands in the southeastern Caribbean Sea.