Hurricane Charley Slams Florida, Kills At Least 17

At least 17 people were reported dead, thousands are without homes and about 1 million are without power.

President Bush viewed the widespread damage caused by the fiercest storm to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and promised rapid delivery of disaster aid, the Associated Press reported.

At Punta Gorda, one of the Gulf Coast towns hit hardest by the fierce storm, trailer homes lay toppled, buildings were gutted, and shattered glass and metal lay scattered on the ground.

The downtown “looks like a bomb zone,” said Chad Maxwell, according to the AP, as he shoveled soggy ceiling tiles and glass off the floor of the real estate office where he works in the city of 15,000. A coffee shop next door lost its second floor and a florist had only one wall standing.

Gov. Jeb Bush put preliminary damage estimates at $15 billion but cautioned that the amount would likely change, a spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management said.

About 3,900 people whose homes were destroyed spent the night in shelters over the weekend, and thousands of others stayed with relatives and friends.

By Sunday, some 1.1 million people in the state were without power and several cities lacked running water.

Emergency workers set up care stations to dispense water, ice and food and provide showers to residents, but the lack of phone service made relief efforts difficult to coordinate, Reuters reported.

“This is the largest American Red Cross response since Sept. 11,” Red Cross worker J.B. Hunt said, adding that the agency would be able to serve 3,000 meals, three times a day, by Monday to those who needed them.

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

FEMA said the state has requested catastrophic housing for 10,000 people, and more than 4,000 National Guard troops have been sent.

Four people were killed in Cuba and one in Jamaica before Charley reached Florida’s shores on Friday.

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