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Slogging Through Ivan's Wake

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AP
President Bush arrived in northwestern Florida early Sunday to tour the areas most devastated by Hurricane Ivan, which gutted thousands of homes and businesses and washed out roads and bridges.

More than a million people in 13 states still don't have power.

The Ohio River could rise 10 feet above flood stage today - a soggy by-product of what remains of Hurricane Ivan. The death toll from Ivan stands now at 49. Earlier, it was blamed for 70 deaths in the Caribbean.

Relief workers fanned out across Florida and Alabama Sunday to hand out ice, water and meals to frustrated victims who faced another day digging through debris and waiting in lines as tempers began to flare.

"Hang in there," the president said as he walked along a street in the northwestern "Panhande" region of Florida, which bore much of the brunt of the hurricane. Bush saw homes destroyed, their lawns littered with broken lamps, clothes dryers, windows, chairs and microwaves.

While Bush came to console residents, the approaching presidential election also was evident in a state whose 27 electoral votes determined the outcome of the 2000 race.

One resident held up a dilapidated piece of cardboard scrawled with the words: "George Bush. You have our vote!"

Another, Jim Heinold, waved a faded flag and asked the president to autograph a white Bush-Cheney T-shirt.

"There are people who are worse off than us," Heinold told the president, who kissed the hair of Heinold's wife, Karen. "There are people who died."

Bush flew in Air Force One to Pensacola Naval Air Station from Maine, where he had spent the weekend at his family's compound in Kennebunkport. He was greeted upon his arrival by his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Mike Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Days after Florida's third deadly storm in weeks, some residents demanded to return to neighborhoods along coastal areas that had been evacuated and sealed off.

"They won't even let me go in there and look for my underwear," said Roy Butgereit, who gathered with other residents of near Pensacola and pleaded for deputies to let them check their homes.

At a Pensacola shopping center, people waited in cars or on foot for hours Saturday to receive necessities from Florida National Guard troops.

"It's part of the life; 364 days of the year it's paradise. One day it's not," said Kevin McKinly, 37, who was in Iowa on leave from the Air Force when he decided to drive 15 hours home to Pensacola to board up ahead of Ivan.

"We're all in the same boat. It's frustrating, but it's not just you, it's everybody," added Lowell Weaner, who said a tree fell on his home during the storm.

Hundreds of urban search and rescue workers scoured demolished neighborhoods Saturday, some using tracking dogs to look for victims in the rubble and along flooded river banks. In Escambia Bay, where a trucker was killed when a bridge collapsed, the Army Corps of Engineers was asked to use sonar to search for possible additional victims.

There have been 72 reports of looting in Escambia County since Ivan passed, sheriff's officials said. Deputies have arrested 15 suspects.

On Saturday, road crews worked furiously to bulldoze debris to the roadside while several major thoroughfares — including a buckled interstate bridge — closed to travelers. Other streets remained an obstacle course of broken tree limbs and downed power lines.

Utility workers managed to restore a major generating plant and some 150 miles of transmission lines, but "there is still an unbelievable amount of hot, hard and dangerous work ahead," Gulf Power spokesman John Hutchinson said.