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Charley's cost estimated at $11b

President surveys hurricane damage

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. -- Residents left homeless by Hurricane Charley's 145-mile-per-hour winds dug through their ravaged homes yesterday, sweeping up shattered glass and salvaging what they could as President Bush promised rapid delivery of disaster aid.

With temperatures in the 90s and humidity that made it feel hotter, people waited with carts in long lines to buy ice. Supermarkets gave away water in five cities, as more than 1 million people lacked electrical power and 2,400 remained in emergency shelters.

"It's as close to hell as I can think of," said Khoum Khampapha, a resident of Easy Street in Port Charlotte, as he looked around his neighborhood of gutted homes. "It's just breathtaking."

As Charley weakened off the coast of New England, Bush surveyed the devastation in Florida, where the storm caused billions of dollars in damage and killed at least 16 people.

In and around Punta Gorda, trailer after trailer lay toppled. Others were blown apart entirely, exposing interior walls that had been knocked flat, with doorways leading to nowhere. Other rooms stood, but without ceilings or roofs to shelter them from the open sky.

Shards of wood and metal lay scattered about the green yards and floated in blue swimming pools that were filled to the brim with rainwater.

Chad Maxwell shoveled up soggy ceiling tiles and shattered glass yesterday from the floor of the real estate office where he works in Punta Gorda. Downtown "looks like a bomb zone," he said, surveying the coffee shop next door, which lost its second floor, and a florist shop with only one wall standing. "Everything's gone. Everything's tore up," he said.

Emergency officials pronounced Charley the worst hurricane to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Twenty-six deaths were directly linked to Andrew, which caused $19.9 billion in insured property losses.

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

From his helicopter, Bush could see debris from trailer park homes strewn across green fields and roofs that had been torn off hangars at Charlotte County Airport. He consoled storm victims in Punta Gorda.

"All the clothes that I've got now is just what I'm wearing," resident George Nickols told Bush during the president's 2-hour visit.

The president promised rapid assistance for Florida, where officials estimated damage of up to $11 billion to insured homes alone.

When asked why he made such a quick trip to Florida in this election year, Bush said, "If I didn't come, they would have said we should have been here more rapidly."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was sending 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 said the state has requested emergency housing for 10,000 people, and more than 4,000 National Guard troops have been activated. "It's going to be awesome; shock and awe, that's our goal," said Governor Jeb Bush, the president's younger brother.

Officials have said hundreds of people were unaccounted for, but had no official count yesterday. The hunt for the missing was slow in some areas because downed power lines and debris made the search dangerous, law enforcement officials said.

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

After slamming into Florida with winds reaching 145 miles per hour and a surge of sea water of 13 feet to 15 feet, Charley hit open ocean and made landfall again in South Carolina's Grand Strand resort region. It moved into North Carolina and up the Eastern Seaboard as a tropical storm before being downgraded to a depression yesterday.

The remnants of Charley dropped rain across the Northeast and whipped up choppy seas yesterday but caused little damage as the storm sped toward the North Sea.

Officials late yesterday were assessing the total damage caused in Florida. An initial estimate of $5 billion to $11 billion was based on the value of homes and insurance policies in Charley's path, said Tom Gallagher, the state's chief financial officer. Uninsured homes, businesses, and cars were not included.

Heavy damage was reported on the Gulf Coast barrier islands. 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 seems to be several hundred yards long, Lee County spokesman Pat O'Rourke said.

Access to Sanibel, with about 6,000 residents, and Fort Myers Beach, with about 7,000 residents, remained cut off as officials assessed the damage.

The destruction also was felt inland. In the rural city of Arcadia, Art and Edwyne Partaka considered themselves among the lucky ones in their mobile home park, where most of the more than 100 homes were destroyed. Their enclosed porch and utility rooms were blown away, but most of their home was intact. "We didn't expect to see anything when we came back," Art Partaka said. "We just thank God he spared most of our trailer."

At least five hospitals were damaged. Charlotte Regional Medical Center in Punta Gorda evacuated all patients Saturday and planned to stay closed for as long as three weeks.

Meanwhile, the fourth and fifth named storms of the Atlantic hurricane season were out to sea yesterday.

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