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 » 2006 Forecast  | Saffir-Simpson scale  |  Your stories

Floridians cope with hurricane's aftermath

Death toll from Charley is 19


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Mary Burger looks at her parents' overturned car Monday in Port Charlotte, Florida.
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Hurricane Charley's impact on citrus crop will be felt for years.

Floridians dig homes and businesses out of the wreckage.

Amateur video captures the fury of Hurricane Charley.
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Hurricane Charley
Florida
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FORT MYERS, Florida (CNN) -- Floridians struggled with sizzling August heat and lack of basic services Tuesday as they worked for a fifth day to clean up the destruction Hurricane Charley left behind.

The state's latest estimate for the amount of damage caused by the storm is at least $11 billion, a number that is expected to rise as the costs are assessed.

State officials said most of the 19 people whose deaths were blamed on the storm died afterward in traffic accidents or from heart attacks. Some were electrocuted when they drove over downed power lines.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Tuesday he is releasing $11 million in additional aid and other assistance to Florida.

Thompson said $10 million would be earmarked to Head Start facilities that need repair or new supplies. Another $1 million would go to DeSoto Memorial Hospital in Arcadia and Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee, and $200,000 would be spent to provide services to senior citizens.

Thompson and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge flew to the state Tuesday morning to view the destruction.

Ridge, whose department includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the visit was intended "to provide some hope and some help and a neighborly hand to help these families in these communities."

"We're going to continue the convoy of food and water, particularly water and ice, over the next several days," Ridge said. "We are working with the state and local communities to determine the debris removal needs and we're prepared to do everything we can to accelerate that process."

Ridge said the Army Corps of Engineers will help remove storm debris.

Despite the damage, Florida Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings said that her state was better prepared for Charley's onslaught than it had been in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm with winds topping 155 mph, crushed the southern tip of the state from east to west.

"Where we are today is about where we were two weeks after Andrew," Jennings said.

Speaking in Punta Gorda, where Charley hit Friday with 145 mph winds, Charlotte County Administrator Bruce Loucks said the area took a hit but was bouncing back.

"We got our butts kicked, but the heart of Charlotte County beats stronger than it ever has in the past," he said.

Water service has been restored to 52,000 customers, though water pressure remains low and people still need to conserve to avoid overloading the sewage treatment system, said Terri Kesner of Charlotte County Utilities.

People were told to purify the water, either by boiling it or by adding drops of chorine bleach or iodine.

Jennings urged people to register for assistance at disaster relief centers set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and said the state was doing what it can to "cut the red tape."

She said restoring power to the 600,000-plus people who lack electricity could take as long as another week.

Election challenges

Charley also has threatened to interfere with Florida's scheduled August 31 primary. Monday was the first day of early voting for the primary, but the lack of electricity kept the polling stations closed in Charlotte and Hardee counties.

Election officials in counties along the path of the storm also were surveying their polling places to assess structural damage and determine if they will be usable for the primary, Secretary of State Glenda Hood said.

Admitting that "there are challenges," Hood said the primary should move ahead as scheduled. The state law on early voting has enough flexibility so that the temporary delays in the two counties will not create a problem, she said.

Curfew remains in effect

A curfew remains in effect in Charlotte County, from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. Officials said only isolated incidents of looting have occurred.

Statewide, 114 food service operations and eight comfort stations have been set up, and FEMA has four disaster recovery centers open, Gov. Jeb Bush said.

Michael Brown, U.S. Department of Homeland Security's undersecretary for emergency preparedness and response, said FEMA had already processed more than $2 million in assistance requests and was in the process of setting up 10,000 temporary homes.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist on Tuesday filed lawsuits against two hotels he said engaged in price gouging and other unfair practices as people fled the hurricane. (Full story)

Economic impact

The governor said that "we haven't quite got our arms around" just how much money the disaster might cost the state. However, he announced Monday that his brother, President Bush, has waived a regulation requiring Florida to match the direct federal assistance it receives for debris removal and emergency services, which will increase the federal government's contribution from 75 percent to 100 percent.

State officials also have been trying to assess the economic impact of Charley, particularly the effect the storm might have on the state's $9 billion citrus industry.

The hurricane's windy march across the state, from southwest to northeast, took it through prime citrus-growing territory, where about a third of Florida's $1.5 billion crop is grown. Trees were uprooted and oranges and grapefruit thrown to the ground, causing what the governor termed a "dramatic loss."


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