CBSN

Struggling In Storm's Aftermath

Smoke rises after as explosion near the U.S. Consulate, unseen, in Peshawar, Pakistan, April 5, 2010.
AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad
No phone. No running water. No ice to fight the heat. No diapers for the baby and no gas to fill the tank. For thousands who've lost their homes and creature comforts to Hurricane Charley, this is reality.

With more than a third of Florida's 67 counties declared disaster areas, the clean-up from Charley seems almost as overwhelming as the storm itself, reports CBS News Correspondent Kelly Cobiella.

"The hard part is not being able to bathe and not having food and water unless I go out and look for it," said Tami Wilson, 48, while waiting in line for ice and water while her blind husband, Dewaine, waited alone at home.

But amid the misery, there were small signs of progress back toward normality Tuesday.

At 7:45 a.m., the U.S. flag was raised at the main Post Office in Punta Gorda as 60 employees said the Pledge of Allegiance, cheered and applauded. Then, they went to work for the first time since Charley struck on Friday.

"We're back in business," declared Postmaster Doug Burns.

And Cobiella reports that supplies are no longer trickling, but pouring in to the storm-stricken area.

Elsewhere in Punta Gorda, municipal employees Norm Broussard and Trevor Day went to work putting back up stop signs and street signs. The city is concerned the lack of signs could contribute to traffic accidents, Broussard said.

"Most of them are bent so we dig them out, straighten them up and dig them back in again," Day said. Others, Broussard said, "we're going to have to replace."

About 790,000 people remained without power Monday, and officials estimated it could take weeks to get electricity fully restored. At least 150,000 were without local phone service.

"I just want something to eat," house cleaner Willie Mae Robinson said as she waited for canned goods and ice with several dozen others at an old train depot in Bowling Green, where temperatures soared into the high 80s. "I have something for today but I don't have anything for tomorrow."

Some 2,300 people stayed in shelters, and Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown said 11,000 have already applied for disaster aid. Federal officials received 20,000 catastrophic housing requests — 10,000 on Monday alone.

"After you live through it, you can't imagine how desperate you get," said Barbara Winslow, who was waiting in line for diapers, food, water and ice at National Guard comfort station. "You don't have anything. If the end of the world came tomorrow, this is what it would look like."

Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte were among the hardest-hit areas Friday, and 25 of Florida's 67 counties were designated federal disaster areas. Officials estimate Charley caused as much as $11 billion in damage to insured homes alone.

Early Tuesday, state emergency management spokeswoman Tameeka Forbes said the death toll had been raised from 18 to 19, but no further details on the new reported death were immediately released. Earlier, Charley killed four people in Cuba and one in Jamaica.

Brown said it could take several weeks to find all the victims, and officials still had no count Monday of how many people remained unaccounted for, a mission complicated by toppled power lines, spotty phone communication and roads littered with debris. However, early estimates of hundreds of people missing are probably inflated.

In Fort Myers, trucks carted away palm fronds and the twisted remnants of metal gutters. Near the city's beach, bulldozers plowed down streets covered with an inch-thick layer of sand that looked like snow.

In other areas, overturned RVs were the only thing that remained in some parking lots. People returned to what was left of their homes to find what looked more like a junkyard.

Gasoline was precious, with lines of 40 cars at some stations. Lines also snaked through parking lots at food distribution sites. Bottles of water and bags of ice took on vital importance.

Frustrations began to emerge on a typically muggy day as people complained about the lack of power and access to their neighborhoods. Tempers flared at a bridge crossing to Fort Myers Beach when officers used a stun gun to subdue a man in a minivan who wanted to enter the area still closed to residents, WINK-TV said.

Law enforcement officials in DeSoto County said Monday six people had been arrested in Arcadia on burglary charges for alleged looting. County spokesman Sgt. Jim Troiano said some homeowners had posted signs warning looters to stay away.

Nearly 4,400 National Guard troops have been activated and nearly 2,000 insurance adjusters were handling claims. The American Red Cross established eight mobile kitchens and five feeding centers capable of serving 9,000 meals a day.