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Florida Picks Up The Pieces

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AP
Urban rescue teams, insurance adjusters and National Guard troops were scattered across Florida to help residents rally from the brunt of Hurricane Charley, the worst storm to hit the state in a dozen years.

At least 16 people were killed in Florida and officials estimate the storm caused $11 billion in damage to insured homes alone. Earlier, Charley killed four people in Cuba and one in Jamaica.

There's a vast vista of personal loss as far as the eye can see, and as CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann reports, people are starting to realize that surviving Charley was just the start. Now they have to learn to live with its aftermath.

Officials have said hundreds of people were unaccounted for but still had no official count on Sunday. The search for missing people was slow in some areas because downed power lines and debris was making the search dangerous.

The hardest-hit areas appeared to be the retirement community of Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte in Charlotte County, though federal officials expanded the disaster aid zone to 25 counties on Sunday.

Amid the tragedies and frustration, a grim humor emerged: garishly colored T-shirts proclaiming "I survived Hurricane Charley" popped up for sale.

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

In and around Punta Gorda, trailer home after trailer home lay toppled. Others were blown apart entirely, exposing interior walls that had been pushed down flat. Splintered wood and shattered glass were scattered about.

As the storm weakened off the coast of New England, President Bush surveyed the devastation from helicopter. He consoled storm victims in Punta Gorda, saying "A lot of people's lives are turned upside down."

The lucky ones, like James Hill, lost just half their house. As Strassmann reports, Hill rode out Charley at home.

"By the time it got strong to the category it was, it was a little too late for us to go anywhere," Hill said. "We just battened down the hatches and rode it out."

Alice Schebel also hunkered down at home because shelters wouldn't take
pets.

"It's like playing Russian roulette," Schebel said. "You don't know if you're going to die or not with everything flying and going."

State officials warned of price gouging, and promised to arrest offenders. The state had received about 400 complaints of price-gouging as of Sunday, and officials warned people not to pay cash for repairs. Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings said 2,000 insurance adjusters were already on the ground and 2,000 more were on their way.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was sending teams of medical, urban rescue and communication workers; at least 60 semitrailers containing cots, blankets, meals, portable toilets, wash kits and other necessities; and truckloads of water and ice.

FEMA Director Michael Brown said Monday that 11,000 people have registered for assistance and that number will rise. He said it has been difficult to track down all the people who need help because many have left the area and even the state.

Power generators, cots, blankets, hammers, nails and portable toilets were unloaded from planes and trucks by members of Florida's National Guard at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport on Sunday, then reloaded for delivery to devastated areas of central and southwest Florida.

J.B. Hunt, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said the agency has eight mobile kitchens and five feeding centers that will be capable of serving 9,000 meals a day by Monday.

"This is the largest Red Cross response since Sept. 11," she said.

At a Port Charlotte shopping center Sunday, some hurricane victims waited as long as two hours in 90-plus degree weather for bags of ice being distributed by armed National Guard soldiers and food from charity organizations.

Christian Charria, of Charlotte Harbor, and her friend, Anna Cancio, of Punta Gorda, loaded up on candles and supplies. Their homes weren't badly damaged, but the days without utilities were starting to take a toll on the women, who had relocated here from Chicago in recent years.

"I still like Florida," Charria quipped.

Just under 1 million people remained without power and 2,300 were in emergency shelters. FEMA said the state has requested catastrophic housing for 10,000 people, and more than 4,000 National Guard troops have been activated.

Help came from other states, too.

Carolyn Norton and husband, Dennis, brought their two children from Atlanta as they delivered a flatbed truck full of generators. The couple works for New Image Towing and Recovery in Marietta, Ga., and said they felt a need to help Charley's victims.

"It's terrible. I'm much in prayer for all of them," Carolyn Norton said. "I feel so bad for everybody and I'm glad we could be a part of helping. As little as it sounds, bringing those things down here, I guess it's a whole lot," she said.

More poor weather may be on the horizon: Hurricane Danielle strengthened into a Category 2 storm some 82 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands, while Tropical Storm Earl, which had sustained winds near 45 mph, was centered about 410 miles southeast of the Dominican Republic and moving west-northwest at 21 mph.