Thousands homeless. More than a million without electricity, half that without water. A preliminary damage estimate of as much as $11 billion just for insured homes. A rise in the death toll to 16. As the remains of Hurricane Charley fizzled into a rainstorm off the coast of New England on Sunday, the numbers in Florida only got worse.
"A lot of people's lives are turned upside down," President Bush said after touring the area in southwest Florida where the hurricane came ashore Friday with sustained winds of 145 mph. That was the broad view. The more personal one came from George Nickols, a resident of ravaged Punta Gorda, who told Bush, "All the clothes that I've got now is just what I'm wearing now."
From the wreckage of Nickols's home to the streets of Punta Gorda, where residents waited in long lines for food and water; to coastal communities such as Sanibel Island, where residents were told it might be days before they can return home; to inland towns such as Arcadia, where some residents said they didn't get adequate warning to evacuate, the sounds of the day were the same: chain saws, crying and complaints.
"The devastation is awful," said Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is working with 25 Florida counties eligible for federal disaster aid. He said he spent much of the day touring some of the 31 mobile home communities in Charlotte County, some with more than 1,000 units, "and most that I've seen, easily half of the trailers are not livable, if not totally destroyed."
Brown said it was too soon for a damage estimate. A spokesman for state Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher gave an estimate of $5 billion to $11 billion, based on the value of homes and insurance policies along the path Charley took across Florida.
"We're very early into it," Brown said of the government's response. "The number one priority right now is the victims. We have a lot of homeless people."
He said temporary housing could include thousands of trailers that would be brought into Florida by truck in "a continuous stream." In addition, more than 60 trucks were headed into the most affected areas with supplies such as cots, blankets, portable toilets, water and ice.
The American Red Cross had opened 246 emergency shelters as of midday Sunday, "sheltered more than 46,000 people and served over 76,000 meals," spokesman Ray Steen said. He said that about 100 "emergency response vehicles" were driving through neighborhoods and delivering basic supplies such as toothpaste, mops and detergent. "Just an early beginning of what people need to get back on their feet," he said.
About 2,400 people remained in shelters Sunday night, the Associated Press reported.
With stores and restaurants closed for lack of electricity and driving hazardous because of downed power lines and traffic jams caused by gawkers and people checking on friends and properties, storm victims queued up for food and water distributed by the Salvation Army and other groups.
One line for a sandwich and a drink stretched for more than 100 yards in Punta Gorda as officials struggled to cope with the flood of people made homeless. Traffic was at a standstill for much of the day in the city's downtown.
Punta Gorda Police Chief Charles Rinehart said his officers were struggling just to handle the hordes of motorists who clogged the city's roadways. And calls were flooding the police department's communications center from people around the country checking in on loved ones.
While state officials confirmed that the number of dead had grown to 16, few details of those deaths were provided. Nor would state and local authorities give estimates of the number of injured and displaced people.
"For me to stand up here and say X number of people are out of their houses tonight is impossible," said Wayne Sallade, the director of emergency operations for Charlotte County.
Judging from the long food lines in Punta Gorda and Arcadia, 40 miles inland, the number of people without habitable homes or potable water was significant. Florida officials said that 1.1 million customers statewide were without electricity.
Because major power lines were toppled for miles by the hurricane, Rinehart said, he expects large parts of his city to be without electricity for weeks. "I think you're talking weeks just to get electricity to critical facilities," he said. "I think you may be talking months to get it to other facilities."
Emergency shelters in Charlotte and DeSoto counties remained packed with homeless people Sunday.
At DeSoto Middle School in Arcadia, at least 75 people stayed the night in the gymnasium after getting last-minute warnings to evacuate.
"When the people came to get us out of there, it was really too late. It was already looking like hell was coming down," said Dale Jenkins, 23, who lives south of Arcadia in a mobile home. He said that the only warning of what was ahead came at 4 p.m. and that he barely had time to find shelter.
Christopher Proctor, 19, told a similar story of a last-minute dash for safety. In his case, he went with his wife and two children to a civic center near the town. Then, as Charley's winds raged, the civic center's roof caved in and rain flooded onto more than 100 displaced families, Proctor said.
Officials moved the families to DeSoto High School. In a matter of hours, that building's roof also opened up with rain, so officials once again displaced the displaced, moving them to the middle school nearby, where Proctor stood in line Sunday at a Salvation Army food truck.
"I have absolutely no place to go," he said, standing with his family. "We don't have clothes, no nothing. Nothing at all."
Roads leading into Charlotte County were crisscrossed with downed power lines Sunday, and utility poles that had been snapped in half littered the marshes north of Fort Myers and Punta Gorda. Utility repair crews and trucks with gear to mulch downed trees moved into the area from as far away as Ohio.
The Charlotte County emergency operations center, near ground zero of Charley's destruction, was without working phone lines until Sunday afternoon, county spokesman Carl Fowler said. Large sections of the center, at the sheriff's office, were still without electricity Sunday, and a gaping hole in the roof let sunlight penetrate a central corridor.
The county's three hospitals remained closed because of "structural issues with the roofs," Sallade said. Officials set up a temporary morgue equipped with refrigerated trucks to preserve bodies. But county officials said their worst fears had not materialized: "If the toll is what I believe I'm hearing, with a storm of that magnitude . . . it's a miracle," he said.
Maj. John Davenport, chief deputy of the Charlotte County sheriff's office, said search-and-rescue crews finished looking for the dead and injured in the county's mobile home parks Sunday. He said they began Sunday evening searching other residential areas. "We have no idea as far as the amount of people who may be missing," he said.
Even amid so many scenes of loss, some found signs of hope. Sacred Heart Church in Punta Gorda suffered extensive damage, its stained-glass windows blown out, the grand piano flooded. When the Rev. Jerome Kaywell surveyed the scene Saturday morning, he saw an inch of water on the floor, steel pipes and chunks of wooden beams scattered. But up on the altar, the golden tabernacle rested untouched, the blessed sacrament still safe inside. And beside it was a red candle, its flame still flickering.
"It was dry as toast," Kaywell said, still marveling a day later after holding Mass in a community center across from the church. "My message was the greatness of our community is being born through this suffering," he said. "The greatness is love."
Finkel reported from Washington. Staff writer Ceci Connolly in Punta Gorda contributed to this report.