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Hurricane Charley: Assessing Damage In Aftermath

Aired August 14, 2004 - 12:31   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And we continue our coverage of hurricane Charley bringing in Bob Kealing. He's with our affiliate station WESH wrapping up early damage reports from Punta Gorda, Florida.

BOB KEALING, WESH CORRESPONDENT: At this Punta Gorda mobile home community, a door-to-door search yields death and destruction. Officials here fear multiple fatalities in a community where they may have ignored evacuation orders. After landfall, Buzz saw Charley took a fast track up through the center of Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess the closest thing you can think of is the "Wizard of Oz," the scene where everything starts flying by and that's what we saw.

KEALING: In Arcadia, 1,200 people at the civic center saw their shelter crumble around them. Only one person suffered minor injuries; the evacuees were relocated. In Lake Wales, the high water washed away a road and claimed the life of one person. And all over this region, airports and airplanes sustained heavy damage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, by last night, we knew that we had a really, really bad situation so this is what it is.

KEALING: In Punta Gorda, some buildings have collapsed. Others have significant damage. Patrol teams from all over the state are watching the streets, those not blocked by debris or downed power lines.


KAGAN: And that report from our affiliate. We want to go live now to our own correspondent John Zarrella. He has been with us live throughout the morning and the early part of the afternoon with the latest on the devastation and also the search for the missing -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, that's exactly right. You know, we talked earlier about the thunderstorms rolling in here adding the insult to injury and compounding the misery here for the people that have to deal with it, those muggy afternoon thunderstorms rolling in. And now, look -- this is a look down highway 41 that we have here.

I was talking about all the traffic that's moving in here now. A lot of this probably people coming back to check their properties in Port Charlotte and here in the Punta Gorda area, but some of it probably not necessary to be on the highway which is compounding the problem.

You can see a tree there, a palm tree which was literally sheered in two, probably about 25 feet up maybe on that palm tree by the force of hurricane Charley. And last half hour, we showed everyone, this building used to be a bank building, now an office building that was completely punctured by the winds of hurricane Charley.

One of the big stories here today has been the search and rescue efforts that's going on in a condominium that wasn't far from where I'm standing right now as search and rescue teams from Hillsboro County went in there literally using -- using their hammers, sledgehammers and crowbars, breaking down the doors trying to get in to see if they could find people inside those condominiums. They did in fact find a few people in some of those condominiums, elderly folks who had weathered the storm there, had not evacuated and in fact were literally in a daze walking around.

The building was condemned and the emergency rescue teams told these people they had to get out and get out right away so they grabbed the few belongings they have. In fact I can look over my shoulder here and I can see some folks with their cars, with the hoods up, with the trunks up, still packing stuff, trying to get out. Just about anything they can that's left that survived the storm.

So again here, the early hours of damage and recovery just beginning and again, you know, still no confirmed numbers of dead here in Punta Gorda or in Charlotte County although we are hearing reports of a number that may be up to about 10, Daryn, at least 10 at this point is one report that we are hearing -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Yes, Associated Press is going with 10 so far, as the number of casualties, number of dead in that county where you are. So you're kind of experiencing the one-two punch, the one punch for these folks yesterday being going through the storm. Now they're coming home and finding what has happened to their homes and what is left or not left of them

ZARRELLA: Right, exactly and, you know, certainly the greater tragedy is they're thankful they survived the storm certainly but the greater tragedy is now picking up all the pieces and where do you go? You and I talked earlier about the fact that because this is a retirement community here, a lot of elderly people, a lot of them living in mobile homes that have been absolutely destroyed. Where are they going to go? What are they going to do?

The emergency management teams here on the ground are saying that the possibility is that they may set up some tent cities here for some of those folks, again, reminiscent to Hurricane Andrew. I think, you know, the governor a while ago talking about the fact that they've learned so many lessons from Hurricane Andrew, truly indeed they did.

The recovery teams are in here a lot quicker now. It took days the last time during Andrew to get teams down to South Dade County to bring in some of the necessities because there's no water. There's no electricity. There's no telephone service here. All of the utilities are down. Everything suspended.

And, you know, even trying to get from some streets to other streets is difficult because Street signs are down and road signs are down. It's a very, very tenuous situation here that they have to make sure that they keep under control and that they make sure that they get the necessary recovery teams and supplies in here for the people as quickly as they can and I know that's exactly what the governor was saying that they are working on -- Daryn.

KAGAN: I think one phrase that he said is that Florida is a much better place to live when there's power. I don't think he was being sarcastic. I think he was simply stating a fact that they've learned from experience.

ZARRELLA: No question about it, because of the -- and you have the whole issue of this terrible August heat down here. And you're going to have thousands of people with nowhere to go, no houses to go in and even those that have houses do not have electricity, no air conditioning and no way to, you know, to cook, no way to, nowhere to put your food if you can get food at any of the grocery stores. The gas stations are all going to be shut down in this particular area. So, you know, all those things that we take for granted are now gone in Punta Gorda.

KAGAN: All right, John Zarella in Punta Gorda. We will be checking back with you trying to get more individual stories of people going back to their homes and seeing what is left there for them or what is next for them as well. What is next or what is happening right now for hurricane Charley as it's making its way up the eastern part of the U.S., not too far from Myrtle Beach. We have with us on the phone right now the mayor of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I think actually probably passed over that quite a bit. Mayor Mark McBride is with us on the phone. Mr. Mayor, thank you for being with us.


KAGAN: Tell us what the conditions are like in your town right now.

MCBRIDE: Yes, we -- the eye has pretty much passed over and now we're going out to reassess damage. We've had windows blow out and signage and trees, power lines down, intersections but certainly not the difficulties and the tragedies that happened in Florida.

KAGAN: It sounds like Myrtle Beach did pretty well with Charley.

MCBRIDE: Low tide, not a lot of storm surge, winds, you know, gusts of over 90, sustained winds of 60. This is a big weekend for us going into the weekend, we had over 200,000 people along here so our governor certainly made the right call in doing mandatory evacuations.

KAGAN: Which was my next question to you. Usually a lot of people do get out but as I understand it, weren't a lot of hotels actually full at the time?

MCBRIDE: Yes, yes.

KAGAN: And so how do you get -- either get all those people out or how do you make due with keeping them in one place?

McBRIDE: You know, all the ocean front hotels, you know, Kings Highway is basically the road that -- east of that towards the ocean, the governor called a mandatory evacuation and started last night at 6:00. And it takes a good 24 hours but, you know, that was a citywide evacuation, it takes us 36 hours to get the people out of here if it was citywide but it's working up along the coast. You know, it's now moved into the north Myrtle Beach area. It's going on up and going into North Carolina.

KAGAN: That it is. We wish the folks in North Carolina well. Mr. Mayor, Mayor Mark McBride from Myrtle Beach, thank you for taking the time. I know it's been a busy and a long few days there for you as you get ready for Charley. And thank goodness for your town that you did OK.

Want to check back up and down the Carolina coast, we've had our David Mattingly. He was in Georgetown, South Carolina. He's now moved up the coast a little bit. You're still south of Myrtle Beach where we were talking to the mayor. You're at Litchfield Beach. Give us an idea of what you see there.

JOHN MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, we see a lot of people coming out now trying to take advantage of this break in the weather to get in some badly needed beach time. They've been cooped up all day. They're getting back outside right now.

I don't know if you can tell off in the distance there, but it's looking like we're starting to see a little bit of blue sky coming through here right now. The storm was fast and furious when it came in.

We have some video to show you. Just down the road is where we were. The winds came in, exceeding 70 miles an hour. Wind was blinding. We couldn't hardly see across the road at the time and again, fast and furious and now it appears the worst of it appears to be over as this storm pushes its way into South Carolina.

Something I want to show you Daryn, everything looks great out here right now on the beach, all nice and clear. See how far out the surf is. But look here. Just a little over an hour ago, at the height of this storm, this is where the surf was coming up to. So it was coming all the way up the beach. But again, it didn't last all that long. A lot of fury, a lot of wind, a lot of rain, it seems to be the worst of it over for now -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right, the worst of it for you and the crew was a moment where I think you caught your breath when you watched some interesting gymnastics with the satellite truck that you're using. Why don't you tell us about that?

MATTINGLY: There was a little excitement there. The satellite truck, you know, has that large satellite dish on the back of it. That dish apparently was acting as a sail as the hard winds were coming in. It actually pushed the truck and this -- and you can see some of the chaos going on in the video that we have. But the truck was pushed across the parking lot where it came to rest in the middle of a median. The truck driver had to jump out of the truck but fortunately, no one was hurt. And of course, the truck is a little out of commission right now but again, just an example of how heavy this truck is and how hard the wind was pushing at that time.

KAGAN: Also, an example of how resourceful our CNN crews are. The truck might be a little out of commission but look at you. You move your location and you get a live shot going. So kudos to you and to all the people behind the camera there, that are with you in Litchfield Beach, South Carolina. Good to see that you're safe and somewhat dry anyway. David Mattingly, thank you for that.

Our hurricane coverage of Hurricane Charley moving up the east coast and the devastation that it left behind continues. Right now we'll take a quick break.


KAGAN: Let's check on where hurricane Charley is right now and where the storm could be headed next. That's Orelon Sydney's job. Hi, Orelon.

ORELON SYDNEY, METEOROLIGIST: Thanks a lot. The center of the storm now moving across North Carolina. You can see this radar really showing a nice central area of low pressure. I even hesitate to call it an eye now even though it's still sort of semicircular obviously. There's just nothing on the western side, the south side to fill it in but it is what's left of the eye of the storm indeed and it is moving to the north and northeast, I think at 28 miles an hour, 25, 28. We'll see in the stats there. I'll just have them those up in a second.

You can see, though, the thunderstorms are getting to be very heavy around Jacksonville, North Carolina, Wilmington, of course and continuing out even out to the east of Lumberton along the interstate here. You're going to find some very slick travel.

Probably not going to want to get out there on the interstates right now because you're just going to have a mess for the next several hours. Wait to travel if you have to, especially if you're going interstate 95 north. That is not going to be a place to be. 35 miles south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina now moving north-northeast at 28. The winds are 75 miles per hour and it's barely holding on, we think, to category one at this point.

So we're not so concerned about wind damage. Mostly here we're concerned about heavy rains and the continuation of the potential for storm surge, especially as we get up towards the barrier islands, up towards Cape Hatteras and continuing even on towards Norfolk.

This is the way it looks now, though. Look at those thunderstorms. Even though this is a minimal hurricane, it still has some very impressive squalls in it and we'll still see some very gusty and potentially damaging winds as well as lightning, don't forget that, and potential for tornadoes.

That tornado watch box now extending through North Carolina into Virginia in effect until 9:00 p.m tonight and that's going to continue to be adjusted up the coast as we go through the rest of the day.

Again, here are your warnings. We have tropical storm warnings and hurricane warnings, remember that the warning means you can expect hurricane or tropical storm conditions within the next 24 hours if you are in this area. A watch means the hurricane conditions or tropical storm conditions are possible in your area within 36 hours.

Out in the far Atlantic we go now, this is way out to sea. The Windward Islands are way back here. This is tropical depression number five what we expect to become tropical storm Earl later on today or later tomorrow. It's expected to make its way into the Caribbean Sea as a hurricane. And the track, at least currently, looks a heck of a lot like Charley. It's got a deja vu all over again.

The good news is that it's five days out from there and there could be some variations in the track. This is just coming on to the edge there of the satellite coverage, excuse me, tropical storm Danielle. It looks like Danielle is going to be a minimal tropical storm before heading out to sea and it looks like I'm going to have to take a break. All right. Back with you in a little bit.

KAGAN: You go get some water. You're working hard and I understand why you're getting so choked up there. Orelon Sydney, go get a drink of water.

All right. We are going to join our affiliate coverage, WTVT, one of our affiliates in Florida. Let's listen in.

Ok. Maybe not. You know what, I think it's a good sign, good chance for all of us catch a breath, get a drink of water, take a break.


KAGAN: Taking a look at live pictures, these pictures coming to us from our affiliate WINK. This is Charlotte County as you can see there on the screen, Charlotte County, Florida. Charlotte County holds Punta Gorda and that is the retirement community that has taken the worst hit apparently so far from hurricane Charley. A large number of retirees, of mobile home parks devastated from this storm. Much more ahead live from the scene there.

Meanwhile, there are people -- this is going to affect people who live in Florida but also potentially people, perhaps you, that had planned to visit Florida. Did you, perhaps, have vacation plans coming up this week or the next couple of weeks? Wondering what to do about that, do you go and how do you check if the place that you intended to go is still ready to have visitors? Let's bring in Hillary Geronemus. She is with "Travel & Leisure" magazine and she's joining us from New York City. Hello, thank you for being with us.


KAGAN: First of all, I think it's important to point out we heard from the lieutenant governor earlier, Lieutenant Governor Jennings saying, you know what? A lot of Florida is still open for business.

GERONEMUS: It is and really only the western coast airports have closed and some of them are starting to reopen. So definitely check ahead and find out if your area is fine. South Florida is fine, even parts of Tampa are fine.

KAGAN: Parts of Orlando might not be ready to go however.

GERONEMUS: Right. I'd check on that first.

KAGAN: What's the best way to check?

GERONEMUS: You can call up the CVB, they should have the most up to date information and also if you booked through a travel agent, they should know what you should do and how to proceed.

KAGAN: For those of us not in the travel business, the CVB.

GERONEMUS: Oh, the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

KAGAN: There you go, got to get in on the cool lingo there. Meanwhile, what if you're planning to go and it doesn't look like it's a good idea. How do you get your money back?

GERONEMUS: Well, there are lots of things. You should check to see if you did buy travel insurance, if you bought it before the actual event, natural disaster manifested, then you should be covered. I would check with the insurance company that you bought with. Most do cover natural disasters and another thing is you could just check the cancellation plans on your hotel or your air fare.

JetBlue for example, has waived all the cancellation fees if you're flying out of the airports that were involved in the hurricane. So they do become flexible. Hotels usually require a day's notice, but when you're in an instance like this, people know that you're in a bind. They'll be flexible and help you out.

KAGAN: You actually -- when you bring up airports I think bring up an interesting point. This could affect especially over the last several days, people's travel plans that really had no intention of going to Florida, just maybe the plane they're supposed to get on was stuck there or just rerouted.

GERONEMUS: Exactly. I think the best thing is just to be patient and speak to the representatives at the airline. Everyone is working really hard to find the best way to reroute you and it's just a matter of being patient and working with everybody.

KAGAN: And we've pointed out that the communities that have been hit a lot of retirees are there. These are people that are separated from their families. I can imagine that some folks are looking at these pictures right now and their parents or grandparents live down in that area, they want to get on the next plane and get down there, but you don't want to get gouged.

GERONEMUS: You don't and you want to be careful because right now, the rescue workers are working really hard and what they don't need is other people and tourists coming down to check out the scene. I would wait a few days, try to get in touch with your family and also, just talk to the airlines again. There are instances that cover things like death of a family or instances where they are willing to break the rules.

KAGAN: And then looking down the road, not to take advantage of a situation like this but do places that tend to be hit by natural disasters like this, do they tend to open up some travel bargains because they want to encourage people to come back into the area?

GERONEMUS: Well, I'm not sure about that but usually during hurricane season, it's more affordable to go down to areas that are affected by the hurricanes just because the risk is there. So you can take advantage of bargains. It's definitely not taking advantage of the seasons, but that's just the way that the tourism business works.

KAGAN: That's how it works and you understand because you're with "Travel & Leisure" magazine. Hillary Geronemus, thank you

GERONEMUS: Thank you very much.

KAGAN: ... for your time today. Once again, making use of our affiliate coverage WTVT in Florida. Let's listen in to their coverage for a bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It becomes more and more overwhelming and at one point, we were circling a community in Bowling Green, I believe it was, where the family was digging through the rubble of their mobile home trying to get whatever they could out and the mother was just so frustrated she was trying to pull a kid away from the sharp metal and the glass and, you know, it really tugged at your heart to really see the damage that had happened.

As I made my way down here to the starting port here, Port Charlotte and Harbor Point, you know, it really -- it really hurts to see this kind of damage because, you know, these people really weren't expecting to get hit like this. This was supposed to hit Hillsboro and Pinellas County and I think it really surprised these people though.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Randy Tom here, from your bird's eye view as Bill said, are you able to see any kind of swath that this storm basically carved through Florida or is it just too wide a thing to see from the air?

UNIDENTIIFIED MALE: That's actually a really good question. I remember when I first got here in '98 we covered a tornado that had gone through Kissimmee, the Sanford area and you could clearly see a line, maybe 100 feet wide, 200 feet wide where the tornado hit and it just goes right along the path. Here, it's almost like a three mile berth where if your house was built really, really nice, you kind of survived it. If you're in a mobile home park and it even close to you, it really hit hard. It's like a three mile berth. It just went straight up U.S. 17 and if you were on the east side of that -- of that hurricane, you really got hit hard. And these houses that you see here not mobile homes but these are houses. They got hit hardest because this is where it made its land contact and just kind of made its way north-northeast up towards Polk County. So Tom, like a tornado, it's a little smaller area that you can really see the well defined line but in this hurricane, it's such a large margin of error and there's just so much debris just cattered about this area. That alone surprised me to see the amount of debris and shrapnel that was just all over this place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you pointed out, Randy, we're seeing a lot more single family residences, homes now -- actual houses that have experienced damage because most of our video from earlier in the day was of mobile home parks and so now we're getting a good look that -- it's not just the mobile homes that got hit very, very hard by this storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're absolutely right. It is these houses, we were looking for houses originally, when we were up in Hardy (ph), north DeSoto in Polk County, we didn't see too many. Every single mobile home park we went to on our trip down U.S. 17, we saw damage. But over here at Port Charlotte, this is actually the Harbor Heights and Charlotte Heights area, very, very close to I-75, they got hit hardest and these houses, Tom, like you said, they were hit hard as opposed to the mobile homes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Randy, one more quick question.

KAGAN: We've been listening in to some of our affiliate coverage WTVT bringing us their coverage from Florida. Also, hurricane Charley is back on land. It is losing strength. It's grinding its way through the Carolinas now. It also slammed into Georgetown, South Carolina, earlier today after a devastating nighttime race through Florida. We've been seeing a lot of that from Punta Gorda, Florida. A resident of a retirement village laments, where do we go now and what do we do?

Keep in mind, following the storm, thousands of people are homeless in the wake of Hurricane Charley. The governor's office is warning victims to beware of scam artists as they recover from the storm and then adding to that misery, more than two million people are without power in Florida. The power outages forced some hospitals to close and patients were sent to other facilities.

Charley lashed Florida's west coast and with winds up to 145 miles per hour. The Charlotte County sheriff's department found itself directly in the path of the eye of the storm. Jason Wheeler from our affiliate WINK was also with the deputy.


JASON WHEELER, WINK: Piece by piece, the Charlotte County sheriff's department was taken by storms. About a half dozen deputies and the sheriff himself now faced with a personal emergency. How to deal with the roof that was disintegrated. We joined them as they searched for a safe room in their own building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all holed up in here. It's the only place that seems to be holding together. If the eye passes, we're going to make a run for the main airport (ph).

WHEELER: Our ears popping from a drop in pressure, we listened to the storm roar by outside inviting the roof to join it. Communications were hampered, too. The situation had become serious. Finally, the call was made to notify others of who we were and where we were just in case the worst was to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll give you the names of everyone with us.

WHEELER: Finally, though, the worst of Charley passed and the men and women who were just hanging on for survival began to inspect the damage. When we were in there, would you have imagined it would have been this bad?


WHEELER: Not only to their building but also to their community. What they found was astounding. Friday the 13th has been unlucky indeed for this area. As far as the eye can see here, it appears that no place has been spared. Charley went through here quickly but left a lasting impression to say the least. People here walking around in a daze say they can't even begin to think about cleaning up right now because the damage is just too overwhelming.


KAGAN: That report coming to us from Jason Wheeler from our affiliate WINK. Stay with CNN. We have continuing coverage of hurricane Charley. Give us 60 seconds. We're going to regroup. We're back with Charley and the other news of the day. Stay with us.



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