Shredded beach cabanas littered the streets and sand from the fabled beach here stretched across roadways. Beachwear was already mildewing inside surf shops whose windows were pulverized.
The usual footwear around this town may be flip-flops, but Tuesday it was work boots as residents cleaned up after Hurricane Frances, which roared through here over the weekend. Daytona Beach was one of the hardest-hit communities along Florida's Atlantic coast, bearing much of the brunt of the slow-moving hurricane that swept across central Florida leaving tumbled wreckage in its wake.
Construction crews sawed, electricians rewired, and bulldozer operators pushed the sand back to the beach. They were working to restore a paradise that attracts 8 million visitors a year.
But it was going to take a while. The question is, how long?
Homeowners with damaged houses have been bunking with relatives and wondering when they will sleep in their own beds again. Restaurant and hotel owners were wondering when they could reopen. This town may have made its reputation as a haven for college students on spring break, but the prime earning season for the tourism industry here is during Oktoberfest and February's Daytona 500 auto race.
"Thirty days, maybe?" said Raj -- the only name he said he goes by -- who owns the Rio Beach Motel. It seemed an optimistic prediction as he watched a crew haul away chunks of the motel's roof. Half of the roof of one of the motel's cottages had ripped off and landed 300 feet away, atop another cottage. Insulation splattered the building like spitballs.
Next door, Debbie and Bill Tarmann said they decided to ride out the storm in the office of their Double Stay Inn "no matter what happened, for better or for worse." The worst arrived with 90-mph winds.
"It was just the pounding rain," she said. "It was just rivers flowing through the parking lot. The trees were almost at a 90-degree angle. The turbines were just flying off the roofs in the area. It wasn't until afterward that we knew we had lost the roof and lost the sign."
And the losses continue. "We're losing a considerable amount of money," Debbie Tarmann said. "We have 20 to 25 employees and they're losing money also. This Labor Day weekend we would be booked, and we have 107 rooms. To us, we got hit hard. For us, this was much worse than Hurricane Charley."
Not far away, Scott Ellis, red-faced from sunburn as he worked on his parents' damaged house, handed out water to relatives who were forced to move to his deceased grandmother's home. The top third of the two-story house was sheared away.
"Right now we're trying to get whatever we can get out before the city comes and shuts us down," he said. "Everybody's in a grouchy mood."
Across the street, the Ocean Walk Shoppes were closed for business, another Labor Day loss. The giant Adam's Mark Hotel, with its opulent entrance, was shut, too, though it appeared relatively unscathed. The beach, with its white-capped waves, could be seen through a glass door with a sign saying the hotel was closed and would reopen "as soon as we have permission to do so."
At the Double Stay Inn, the Tarmanns guessed that it would take two weeks for insurance adjusters to look at their property, and at least another two weeks to fix the damage.
Kellie Murray, a bartender who was idled by Frances, was not willing to wait another day before returning to work at Niceley's Tavern on International Speedway Boulevard, which ends at the beach. No lights, no problem, she said.
"It's survival of the fittest," Murray said. "I've been unemployed almost the whole week. Last night, I called the owner, Kevin Niceley, and asked if he wanted me to open up and see what happens."
When she did, musician Craig Selek showed up, saying he welcomed the chance to get out of the house. Electrician Sterling Eakin came, too, saying he needed a break after five days of working to turn electricity back on throughout Volusia County. Perry Odosky, another tired electrician, sat at the bar and sipped beer.
"The storm wasn't so bad," Selek said. "Living here, you get used to it. We're living in paradise down here. Once in a while, you've got to go through hell."