Listen closely in the oozing traffic jams and the won't-this-ever-end ice line, and flinty voices can be heard. Disembodied, but somehow incredibly intimate, they have talked and talked for days now, crackling out of car radios and ancient transistors.
"There's bottled water at the corner of Harbor and 41."
"Ice across from Taco Bell."
"Does anyone have a porta-potty?"
The voices radiate from a tiny radio station -- broadcasting over five frequencies -- planted on the edge of a mangrove bog in the shredded-aluminum core of Hurricane Charley's path. The round-the-clock broadcasts have been like a step back in time, a time when radio was king.
There is no power in Punta Gorda. No television. Spotty phone service.
In other words, radio rules.
But the reign of Seaview-104.9 and its sister stations has been all the more remarkable because the radio station itself is a victim. Charley ripped the roof off the tiny wooden station and shattered its windows last week but somehow spared the announcer's booth. Within four hours after the storm passed, the station was back on the air.
What has ensued is a kind of reciprocal love affair. The tattered station and its cast of haggard announcers -- many of them with ruined homes of their own -- have directed listeners to the nearest MRE station or ice stand. The listeners have given back by showing up with hammers and wood to build a new roof, at a time when roof builders are almost impossible to find.
The reach of Seaview and other area stations could expand significantly because federal authorities plan to distribute 50,000 radio receivers to storm victims.
The Seaview station sits near the bend in a winding road that leads through a blasted-apart trailer park. Ron Hall, 67, a soft-spoken ham radio junkie with a pile of white hair, monitors the front door. Hall showed up unannounced, driving from his home in St. Petersburg. Now he is a fixture, leaning into a flashing, handheld device that receives information from the emergency operations center and jotting notes to be dashed into the announcer's booth.
There is no use blocking the entrance. The people come in all day. This is community activism meets journalism.
"Are you the radio guy?" Debbie Passaro asks as she stalks into the soggy lobby. "You need to find out when they're going to start collecting the garbage."
As Passaro gives her amateur's take on radio programming, General Manager Mike Moody's cell phone rings. It has been ringing almost as long as Punta Gorda has been a national focal point.
Moody's glasses tilt because he lost an earpiece in the storm's commotion. He gave out his personal cell phone number on the air, pleading for someone to rescue his station in the hours after the storm hit. Now he hears from women with advice for soothing children and from people who need directions.
"That was the Florida emergency something or other," he said, setting down the phone. "They wanted to send help, and they wanted to know where to send it."
Moody benefited from the resources of a megalith, Clear Channel Communications Inc., which owns Seaview and the four other stations he supervises in southwest Florida. The mother company's engineers worked with local radio engineers to reconfigure twisted transmitters and receivers so that the station -- now powered by a diesel generator -- could stay alive.
Moody stands amid boxes of cookies, potato chips, motor oil and blankets. There is so much stuff that he had to ask listeners to stop bringing anything to the station.
The announcers are visible through a big round window that resembles a porthole. Everyone is going on the air, even a former employee who happened to be in town because he works for a disaster response team.
Lisa Kitchener pops into the booth and walks up to a microphone: "TGI Friday's is open. . . . They have a full bar!"
"Yay," says Rosey Williams, an oldies disc jockey turned newswoman.
Williams has been in a confessional mood on this day. The storm peeled the roof of her condominium, a sturdy brick building she thought was so safe that she invited friends to take refuge there.
"I've never had to accept charity," she says, pressing her throaty tones into the microphone. "Every time I go to pick up ice or water, I break down crying."
In the lobby, Larry T, one of the deejays, has given over control of the announcer's booth door to Casey Duffy, 23, a radio advertising saleswoman with shy eyes.
"Charlie Shuuuuuue!" Duffy calls out as a tall man with the deepest of Florida tans strides in.
Charlie Shue is a pro. Everyone likes Charlie. The way they call out his name and drag out the syllables gives them away. "Old Shoe!" "The mayor of the morning!"
Shue was once an afternoon-drive radio personality in the District, booming his voice over WPGC-FM in the early 1970s. He retired young and came to Punta Gorda for the good life but got bored. Now, at the age of 67, he has been on the air here for 22 years.
"Charlie," Duffy says, grabbing his attention away from a corridor flowing with people.
"I brought my neighbor in," Duffy says, gesturing to a pretty girl in a tank top. "She's 11, and she's been going around the neighborhood with her friends, helping old people."
Shue doesn't hesitate. He does not need to hear anymore.
"Great story!" he calls out in his deepest radio voice. "Do you want to talk on the radio?"
Staff writer Ceci Connolly contributed to this report.