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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Hurricane Charley: 13 Deaths Confirmed in Florida
Aired August 14, 2004 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Carol Lin at the CNN center.
The headlines this hour, Hurricane Charley is now skirting the mid Atlantic coast as a tropical storm. But people in southwest Florida will be trying to recover for days to come. At least 13 deaths have been confirmed across the state of Florida. President Bush is headed there tomorrow to see the damage first hand.
In Iraq, demonstrations in support of Shiite militants, as peace talks fail in Najaf. An Iraqi government official says military operations there will resume. U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling rebels there for a week.
And President Bush plans to announce he's bringing home tens of thousands of U.S. troops, along with hundred thousand family members and support staff. Troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan won't be affected. The president is expected to make the announcement Monday during a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
And swimmer, Michael Phelps, has picked up the first Gold Medal for the U.S. at the Olympics. He broke his own world record while winning the 400 individual medley. Phillips -- or rather Phelps is expected to swim in eight events in Athens.
Keeping you informed, CNN the most trusted name in news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm thinking what are we going to do? How are we going to get any help? What about those people that lost, you know, all their home? You know? When do we go back to work? When is the electricity coming on? Phone? It's scary. You know, I've never been through anything like this before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIN: A major hurricane hammers Florida, leaving behind death and a trail of destruction.
Hello, I'm Carol Lin at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. You are watching a special edition of our continuing coverage of Hurricane Charley.
The terrifying hurricane destroyed thousands of homes and left millions without power. This hour, we are tracking Charley and our correspondents are all along the storm's path. We're going to show you the damage that it has already caused and the people affected by that devastation. We're going to start at ground zero.
The ferocity of Hurricane Charley and the devastation have left Punta Gorda, Florida shell-shocked. As night begins to fall, hundreds of people who are now homeless are heading to shelter. Others are left wondering where to begin picking up the pieces.
CNN's John Zarrella begins our coverage from Punta Gorda.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The day after Hurricane Charley brought images the people of Punta Gorda hoped they wouldn't see, but feared they would. Every block, every intersection, everywhere you looked there was destruction.
WAYNE SALLADA, CHARLOTTE CO., EMERGENCY MGMT.: It's our Andrew. It may not be, you know, to the level of Andrew but it's damn close. This exceeds any hurricane that has hit Florida since Andrew, certainly greater that Opal. It was far greater than Isabel last year, along the East Coast. The destruction here is catastrophic. We have thousands upon thousands, and thousands of homeless people this morning. The devastation in our beautiful city of Punta Gorda is extreme. We lost all three of our hospitals. Half of our fire stations were destroyed.
ZARRELLA: Trailer parks dot this retired community. They were the hardest hit. Charley's winds battered the wood and aluminum homes to bits.
CONNIE LARSON, HURRICANE VICTIM: I had planned to stay here. And the manager came and said not a good idea. I'm glad I listened. I'm glad he came.
ZARRELLA: Concrete block fared only a bit better. Using sledgehammers and crowbars, urban search and rescue teams broke down doors looking for survivors in this condominium complex.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello!
ZARRELLA: They found a handful of elderly people. They were OK. In other parts of the City, the National Guard was called in to protect property. Governor Jeb Bush came here too, to reassure the people.
GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: While this is a day of complete devastation and a real tragedy, and there's a lot of sadness in people's heart's right now, I'm absolutely convinced that within a shorter period of time than what we experienced with Hurricane Andrew, people's hopes are going to be lifted.
ZARRELLA: Dave Greenlee and his son William hope for that help soon. They left their home to look for food, water and gasoline.
DAVE GREENLEE, HURRICANE VICTIM: I don't know, we're just blank. You know, I mean we don't know what to do. There's nothing open, nothing to eat. Just trying to think how long we're going to go without electric. You know?
ZARRELLA: Here, the calm after the storm has brought with it for some sadness, for others relief.
John Zarrella, CNN, Punta Gorda, Florida.
LIN: Obviously a lot of people out there assessing the damage and counting the cost, and trying somehow to move forward.
John Agwunobi is Florida's secretary of Health. He toured the worst hit areas earlier today and he joins me now by -- actually, he's right there.
JOHN AGWUNOBI, SECRETARY OF HEALTH, FLORIDA: Hi, Carol.
LIN: We see him. We thought we were going to get you on the telephone, but it's good to see you in person.
AGWUNOBI: Thank you.
LIN: You're in Tallahassee right now. The tour of the devastation, obviously Mr. Secretary, we have seen the pictures all day long. Take me behind the pictures. What did you see? What were you looking for?
AGWUNOBI: I'll tell you, there was some powerful images. I remember walking into a shelter with governor -- Governor Jeb Bush. As we walked into the shelter, we were met by individuals with a dazed look, elderly individuals who were sick. At one point, I remember looking across a big gymnasium watching the governor as he was fanning an elderly gentleman who had fainted...
AGWUNOBI: ... so that he would stay cool. I have to tell you though, I was also struck by the fact that people were rallying around their neighbors and their friends. Somebody had set up a stall, a little table on the street, where they were giving away free food and free water. It was quite moving to see.
LIN: Isn't that remarkable, the human spirit at a time of such great need?
Mr. Secretary, I'm wondering what do you think, now that the storm has passed, theoretically the danger has passed, what is the greatest threat right now to the people who are going to try to rebuild?
AGWUNOBI: There's actually still a lot of danger associated with the partially collapsed buildings and trees that are downed, and power lines and flooded areas. So, we're by no means out of the woods. Having said that, our focus now is on the human aspects of this. Making sure that we protect the people of that community, one of the finest communities in Florida. I would urge everyone who has damage to their homes, or who's in need of help to call 1-800-621-FEMA, F-E-M-A, 1-800-621-FEMA. There's a lot of help on the way and there's a lot of services available.
LIN: But you know what's so daunting for many people, especially to the elderly community of say, Fort Myers and many of the people in the mobile homes in Punta Gorda, is that it's such a overwhelming process. You have a meeting with somebody, you total up your damage, but it can take a year, two years to rebuild. Where are these people going to go?
AGWUNOBI: Yes. The truth of the matter is that this community needs help right now tomorrow, tonight. And I'm happy to say, having been there all day today with the governor, that there are services being made available as we speak.
LIN: Like what?
AGWUNOBI: The first, the Red Cross for example, has placed four or five kitchens in and around that community. Kitchens that feed 10,000 meals a day. The National Guard on the scene helping direct traffic, helping clear roadways. FEMA, as we speak, on the scene organizing and bringing to bear resources. We're trying to clean up the streets, we're trying to fix electricity, make water available. It's a slow, tedious process but we're getting it done.
LIN: Mm-hmm. And you know, for many people, when you come across such a personal disaster, that the shock often doesn't hit until days or even weeks later. How are you anticipating the reaction by these communities, these smaller communities to this kinds of devastation and what lies ahead?
AGWUNOBI: I have to tell you, many of these communities are going to take years to recover. And I don't mean in terms of physical, the buildings and the lost things that they own. I'm talking about within them, their hearts and their spirit. But for every tragedy, there are miracles. And I saw today people rallying together, people stepping up to the plate providing leadership in a very personal way in that community.
We're already talking about how we're going to support children, how we're going to support the elderly. And I'm comfortable and confident that this is going to be OK over time.
LIN: All right. The death toll is slowly but surely climbing. I understand from the police chief in Punta Gorda that some of the difficulty is that people scattered when the storm hit. So it's impossible to know whether they are missing, whether they're injured somewhere and people just haven't gotten to them. Or whether they're simply went to a friend's house and haven't reported in.
AGWUNOBI: Yes, that's very true. We actually 15 confirmed fatalities and it's a tragedy. Fortunately for us, we continue to do our work, search and rescue. There are many areas that we haven't gotten to yet but there are people out there in the field. Disaster search teams in the field, even tonight, in the dark of night searching communities; hopefully, the numbers won't go much higher. But this was a very, very powerful and dangerous storm.
LIN: John Agwunobi, Florida's secretary of Health, thanks for being with us.
AGWUNOBI: Thank you.
LIN: I know it's trying times and it's going to test the state's resources and the people's spirits their across the state of Florida.
AGWUNOBI: We'll get through.
LIN: I'm sure you will. And we'll be there to cover it.
Well, the eye of the storm came ashore in South Carolina in the town of Georgetown. And our David Mattingly is there with a look at the aftermath.
David, I know you've seen pictures out of Florida. And I'm just wondering how your experience compares there in the Carolinas?
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, really absolutely no comparison here because here we're not talking about lives being destroyed. We're talking about trees down and power lines down.
We watched an absolutely spectacular sunset off the west tonight, very much like the one we saw last night. It was about this time yesterday that the governor put out the order, the mandatory evacuation order telling 180,000 people to get out of their hotel rooms, get out of their homes, get off the beaches and to hit the road for their own safety.
And it's a good thing they paid attention because when the hurricane hit, it hit stronger than originally anticipated. According to the National Weather Service, we find out that the highest winds recorded were exceeding gust of 90 miles per hour as this storm came ashore. When Charley came in, it lasted only about an hour. There was the tremendous wind, of course. But then also the blinding rain associated with this.
And we saw pictures of destruction all up and down the coast here. Trees that were broken and knocked over into the road, we saw power lines that were down, we saw some low areas that were flooded. We saw power crews working very hard to get these power lines back up and running. But again, this kind of destruction all over the place is stuff that can be repaired. Not at all like the lives that were shattered in Florida by this storm. Everyone here counting their blessings, and watching what happens in Florida, as those people there try to recover as well.
But for now, people are trying to recover what's left of this weekend. This was the last big weekend of the summer, but these hotels were empty. Some people are trickling back in now, trying to make the best of it, hoping to have one good day here at the beach -- Carol.
LIN: David, I have to mention the background behind you. It looks like a picturesque resort: beautiful blue ocean and the palm trees. It's just so ironic that you're talking about a disaster.
MATTINGLY: That's right. You look at that scene and you can probably here some of the machinery in the background too. That's some of the cleaning equipment in the condos next to us. Everyone scrambling, trying to get everything cleaned and back in ship shape, so the tourists can come back here and start spending some money.
LIN: Mm-hmm. A beautiful scene behind you in what normally is paradise. Thanks very much, David.
CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is in Punta Gorda for us tonight. He's been surveying some of the damage there, and joins us with more for that scene.
Chad, the scene behind you, that used to be a mobile home park.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. In fact, the one behind me, Carol, actually completely flipped over. Almost the bedding, if you will, has turned completely over. The bottom is on top, the top is underneath there somewhere and you know, I can't make hide nor hair of the sides. I think they're just gone. But that's what you'll find a lot in here. There's an awful lot of shredded aluminum everywhere, in all of the trees. And sometimes, 30 feet up in the trees as the wind just kept taking it and taking it, and making it like kite and throwing it up there.
There's an 8:00 curfew. Although right now, there's still an awful lot of cars out on the road. What I've noticed since 8:00 -- before 8:00 the cops were driving around, the police were here but they were not having their lights on. Now, they're driving around with their lights on, kind of a more an impressive show going hey, time to get home. Time to get out of here. Time to get back to your place.
There was some looting here last night. Even some of the folks that live here saw the looting. They called the police; the sheriff came out with shotguns and chased the guys away. Kind of a sad story; kind of a sad state of affairs.
Most of the people that are here, only about 10 percent are full- time residents. Ninety percent are actually not full-time residents, they go home; they're called snowbirds. They go back to Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. And a lot of them are probably watching this and they're going oh, how is my place? How is my place down there? Well, I'll tell you, I didn't see probably too many places that weren't damaged in some ways. So, if you know somebody down here you can get a hold of and have them take a look at your house, take care of it, whatever you can do. That would be pretty smart.
I have -- you know, sometimes you're just in the right place at the right time. And today, through all of this devastation, I had tears in my eyes literally when I saw a daughter from Virginia fly down to Fort Myers, to find her mother she didn't know was all right. And she found her while we were actually interviewing. Here's the piece and I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed shooting it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm alive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh! Oh! Oh. Oh.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for coming.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't know which way to turn. I love you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch out! Watch the nails!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Be very careful.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, sweetheart. Oh, you are an angel.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh! God!
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MYERS: She was screaming as she saw her mom, "Mommy! Mommy! Mom!" And she ran across the hallway, "Slow down! There are nails everywhere!" She didn't care. She wanted to see her mom. She was really glad to know her mom was there. And it affected me a lot. It really did. I stood there and I just -- I couldn't talk. I couldn't become a part of the piece. I couldn't become a part of it. It was just -- I was just there observing and it was magic to see two people so happy together; so happy to see each other.
LIN: And Chad out there in Punta Gorda.
Stay with us as we continue our Hurricane Charley coverage. In the dark, millions are without power tonight. And we're going to take a closer look at the devastating damage and the toll Hurricane Charley has taken on residents.
And President Bush will take a break from the campaign trail to help his brother in Florida.
Those details coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): September 8, 1900, the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history ravaged Galveston, Texas. The Category 4 hurricane had no name, but would forever be known as the Great Storm. One out of every six Galveston residents, some 8,000 men, women and children died. The hurricane's 150 mile an hour winds completely wiped out 12 blocks of Galveston, destroying nearly three- quarters of the island city.
(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LIN: It's hard to put a price on devastation, but there you have it.
Now in Orlando, Florida, residents were far from the actual eye of the danger of the hurricane of Charley. But their city still suffered a lot of damage.
CNN's Gary Tuchman is standing by there with more details on that.
Hi there, Gary.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello there, Carol. And they were far from the eye when it came ashore in the Gulf of Mexico, but then the middle of Hurricane Charley did come right over the city of Orlando.
And 10 presidents have served in the White House since the last time a hurricane came over the inland city of Orlando, Florida. Dwight Eisenhower was the president when Hurricane Donna came a calling in September of 1960. And the people here just really weren't ready for it. They were very surprised by it.
Behind me, a tree is down and it's very easy to find them in the Orlando area and east of here in Daytona Beach, where the hurricane also went over before it went out into the Atlantic Ocean. But all throughout central Florida and the central coast along the Atlantic Ocean, there are hundreds of trees down. There are hundreds of thousands of people without power. And many roofs have been torn off of buildings.
What's interesting about the damage here, very little catastrophic damage. But it's very extensive for that entire 60-mile drive. From Orlando to Daytona Beach, we saw lots of damaged stores, business, gas stations and homes with roofs ripped off, garbage cans, telephone booths we saw rolling down the street. At one point, we saw a port-a-potty, those things are awfully heavy, just slide across the beach in Daytona Beach for about 100 feet. And that was an unusual sight, something I haven't seen during one of the many hurricanes we've covered over the years.
The amusement parks in the Orlando area, the Disney parks, the Universal parks, shutdown yesterday when they heard there was a possibility that a hurricane was going to come close. It was a good idea since it came right over, exactly 24 hours ago the eye of the hurricane crossing over. The parks, except for Animal Kingdom, one of the Disney parks reopening today. Animal Kingdom is expected to reopen tomorrow.
Airports around here, lots of damage to general aviation airplanes. We're near where we're standing now in the eastern part of Orlando, near the Orlando Executive Airport, which is just north of the Orlando International Airport, where they fly a lot of private planes. We are told that half planes have been damaged or destroyed. So a very surprising evening last night here, because it has been 44 years since the last time a hurricane crossed over Orlando, Florida.
Carol, back to you.
LIN: Amazing pictures there, Gary. Thank you very much.
All right. Let's get the latest in terms of casualties and damage in Punta Gorda. Chad Myers is standing by there where the hurricane hit.
And hit with hard force -- Chad.
MYERS: It really did. And I was talking to Orelon Sidney earlier in the day, Carol. And the whole thing to me, looks like about a 20, 25 mile wide F1 to F2 tornado. That's really the damage we're seeing here. Typical F1 tornadoes is not as wide as a football field. But this damage goes out 25 miles in either direction. And at some point, it's very serious and it got that serious at about 3:45 when -- actually, some of the clocks stopped out on Sanibel Island.
Joining me right now is Police Chief Rinehart, police chief of Punta Gorda.
And I want to get to the one point that we just talked about literally 15 minutes ago, the curfew. What does it mean to the people here and the people that well, aren't from here?
CHARLES RINEHART, POLICE CHIEF, PUNTA GORDA, FLORIDA: Actually, the curfew is just to try to get people off the street. The curfew is from 9:00 tonight to 6:00 in the morning. Residents will be allowed to come in, but we want you to go right to your home and get off the streets. Part of that is the security issue. We're going to be patrolling heavily with our own department and other departments from around the state and the nation, to help us to try to keep anyone off the streets that don't belong here. Public safety issue.
MYERS: You know what? And most of the places are closed anyway. There's no place for folks to go.
RINEHART: There isn't. I mean and if you have a home that you can actually stay in and you want to come to it, we're going to let you do that. But we want you to go to it and stay off the streets.
MYERS: Tell me a little bit about the damage that you've seen here. We've tried to cover as much land as we can. But I'll tell you what, there's so much stuff on the streets. It's hard to go anywhere. It's hard to go anywhere quickly. Everybody else is a sightseer looking around as well.
What part of town is the worst hit?
RINEHART: I've got to tell that ground zero was Punta Gorda. It went right through our main area, right over my public safety building, took out our historic area. All of our business area is devastated, much as you see in this trailer park. It was the worst we've ever seen when you plan for it. But this is by far it's here.
MYERS: I also took a little trip out to the airport. And it's just a lot of wrecked planes out there.
RINEHART: Yes. When you get that much wind, I mean you can only tie down for so much. When you get winds that we had blow through here at that rate, you see the straight line breaks in these concrete power poles and things. That's pretty bad.
MYERS: When you saw the turn, and we all know the turn. The turn that when it was supposed to go to Tampa and it turned to you, what were you thinking? And what kind of action did you take then?
RINEHART: Well, we were in communications with our county USE at the time. We were all watching on the radar. We knew when it bobbed to Sanibel and it shifted north, that was a bad case scenario for us. A storm north of Charlotte Harbor is the worst-case scenario, let alone coming right up to Gutley (ph) like it did. And it was a point of no return for us.
MYERS: Carol, I know you have a question for the police chief. Go ahead.
LIN: Chad, I know the police chief can't hear me. So let me relay through you.
LIN: We are trying to get more of a confirmation of the number of dead and injured. I know he's got search teams going door to door. How is that going? When does he think that we are going to get a firmer number on the number of injuries and the number of dead in Punta Gorda?
MYERS: Chief Rinehart, it's been a little frustrating for us at CNN and all the media outlets because we really want to know numbers. And we're finally getting some in. Can you give me any update on that? I know you've got teams out, so you're not going to give us a final number, but what do you have for us at this hour?
RINEHART: I just left a briefing and they are confirming we do have some fatalities. But I do not have the number. And that will have to come from the county USE.
MYERS: Tell me a little bit about the people at the hospital. We saw maybe hundreds of rescue squads going north today toward Tampa. Who were there? Who were in there? What people were in there and why were they going?
RINEHART: Well, actually we lost all three hospitals. The only medical services as far as Saint Joseph's Hospital and Charlotte, the E.R. is functioning. As far as the hospitals themselves, they received enough damage that they are shut down. So, I can only assume they were taking people to hospitals north of our area that weren't damaged.
MYERS: I know you're not an expert on electricity. But has the power company given you any estimate when they get their people in here? We really haven't seen that many trucks in here, really. And typically, you just see lines and lines, and lines of electric trucks.
RINEHART: It usually takes them two to three days to actually come in and get themselves organized. Today we have seen the trees -- clearing the brush off the power lines, cleaning those right-a-ways up, starting to see the power companies. They're staging, so they're going to be here. They plan for these also. They have not given us an estimate. I know that when Andrew went through years ago, Dade County, it was weeks and months. So we just hope is as soon as possible.
MYERS: Well, there are also obviously other municipalities too, including: Cleveland, Sanibel Island, all those other places that were not talking about; even as far north as Arcadia and even Orlando. Those folks are feeling it too. But thank you very much for joining us this evening.
RINEHART: You bet. Thank you.
MYERS: Carol, back to you.
LIN: All right. Thanks, Chad.
Our special coverage continues with a look at the people affected by the devastation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID DRAKE, BUSINESS OWNER: Some of the equipment will be salvageable. The building will obviously have to be torn down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIN: And a man looses his business but not his optimism. His story is ahead, as our coverage of Hurricane Charley continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): August 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated southeastern Florida. The Category 5 hurricane flattened the town of Homestead, killing 15 people there and leaving a quarter of a million others looking for shelter. Andrew was the most expensive natural disaster to ever hit the U.S., doing $26.5 billion in damage. So many Andrew related claims were filed; nearly a dozen insurance companies went out of business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIN: Here are the headlines right now.
After causing death and destruction in Florida, a less powerful Hurricane Charley battered the South Carolina coast today. And it then cruised into North Carolina where it lost some steam. Charley is now officially a tropical storm and its leading edge is now making its way into Virginia. In Iraq, a government official says military operations will resume in Najaf, after peace talks failed. Meanwhile, in the towns of Samarra and Hilla, fierce fighting has left 90 insurgents dead.
And the Olympics, 19 year old American swimmer, Michael Phelps wins the gold for the men's' 400 individual medley. And he does it in world record time. He's expected to swim in eight events in Athens.
Keeping you informed, CNN, the most trusted name in news.
Surely Florida is starting the long process of recovering from Hurricane Charley. Officials have confirmed that at least 13 deaths from the storm. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed, power lines are down and trees uprooted. And now officials are starting the relief and recovery effort. Food, blankets and other essential supplies are being airlifted into the effected areas.
Authorities have imposed a curfew in several areas to avoid a repetition of last night's looting. And the Red Cross has set up shelters. The agency has already distributed tens of thousands of meals across the state.
Well, President Bush will make his way to Florida tomorrow, to view the devastation first-hand.
And as CNN White House Correspondent, Dana Bash explains, his visit could have political implications, as well.
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Little more than an hour after Hurricane Charley made landfall, the president declared Florida a federal disaster area. Less than 48 hours later, he'll be on the ground for a first-hand look at the devastation.
BUSH: I'm going to travel down to Florida to visit with those whose lives have been hurt by Hurricane Charley. Just want them to know that our federal government is responding quickly.
BASH: Mr. Bush's disaster designation set into motion this central command post in Washington.
PATRICK RHODES, FEMA STAFF CHIEF: This team immediately goes into operation. You're looking at a 24/7 operation, right now.
BASH: FEMA officials fielding requests for everything from money, to supplies, to search and rescue personnel.
Florida Governor Jeb Bush, asked the president for federal aid, even before the storm hit. Perhaps the Brothers Bush remember a lesson their father learned the August before his election day, 1992. State and local officials 12 years ago were infuriated at what they saw as a president slow to respond with money and troops to help after Hurricane Andrew.
That President Bush went on to narrowly win Florida, but lose the White House. This year, it's hard to envision a Bush victory that doesn't include Florida's 27 electoral votes. Mr. Bush's hurricane damage tour will be his 25-trip to Florida, since taking office; there this past week, asking for votes in the Panhandle.
G. BUSH: Many lives have been affected by this hurricane. And I know you join me in sending our prayers.
BASH: The president's opponent, John Kerry, offered his own sympathies for those affected by Hurricane Charley. But he said he wouldn't go to Florida now. And seemed to question the wisdom of Mr. Bush going so soon.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our focus is on all of the police and response personnel necessary, not being diverted from a visit or anything; but really focusing on the recovery itself. And I think that's where the attention ought to be for the time being.
BASH (on camera): In fact, the president does not usually go to disaster sites so quickly, just for that reason. A spokesman for the president said they're going to do what they can to minimize any disruption his visit may cause.
Dana Bash, CNN, the White House.
LIN: Well, it was the small community of Punta Gorda on Florida's west coast that bore the brunt of Charley's fury. And that's where the storm made landfall more than 24 hours ago, before swirling its way across the peninsula, heading north to the Carolinas.
CNN's Keith Oppenheim is in Punta Gorda, where rescue workers and volunteers are slowly picking up the pieces.
Keith, we've heard that people from all around are coming with their own equipment, trying to help the locals there.
KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's an interesting site all around Punta Gorda. What we are seeing is a lot of cooperation between the people who live here, Carol. And we are also seeing a lot of people who are glad that they weren't here when the storm came.
Right now, I'm at the Windmill Village Mobile Home Park. It's a large park, about 450 homes here, and the only really good news to report about all the damage that we're seeing here. And it's extensive, is that this is a place where senior citizens often spend the winters. So the fortunate thing is they weren't here. But what we don't know is whether or not there may be bodies that are buried in some of these crushed homes.
I was talking to a city manager a little while ago, and he said tomorrow morning they are going to send a mortuary team, some forensic teams with cadaver dogs, and they'll get some sense of whether or not anyone might have died here. So far, they don't have any evidence, but they have to look under a lot of things to make sure.
LIN: Keith, what is that scene behind you? Do you know what that used to be?
OPPENHEIM: Sure. Yes. This is someone's home. It is a place that I can demonstrate as best as I can, from our camera perspective here. And what you can see is a power box. And in the background, behind that power box, you can see some of the possessions, including a water heater that is tilted on its side. And if we could move a little bit over to the right, you can see some of the furniture that has been just thrown around. All the possessions of this house, this flattened house, or what was a house, are really out in the open.
And I'll note that Carol, that the National Guard has been around at some of these mobile home parks, in part to prevent looting. And we have seen them. They are actually walking around with their rifles, pretty concerned about the possibility, because someone, really, could come into any one of these places, and take what they want, if they were unprotected.
LIN: Yes. Some pretty strong messages there spray painted on some of these walls: "Looters will be killed." And we're looking at some of the National Guards people, as they are arriving down this pathway.
Thank you very much, Keith. Keith Oppenheim.
Do you know, by the way, whether the people there survived? Keith, I'm sorry. I know I lost you there, for a second. Do you know whether the people in the house survived?
OPPENHEIM: As far as I know, the people in this house were not here during this storm.
LIN: All right.
OPPENHEIM: Although, you know, that's our best guess.
LIN: Yes, that would be good news, indeed. Thanks very much, Keith.
Well, Hurricane Charley has long since left Florida, of course. And it headed to the northeast, along the mid Atlantic coast. Stay with us as we continue our special coverage of Hurricane Charley.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's indescribable. You just pray that the wind drops, because we don't seem like we could have taken another five minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just didn't really think this would happen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you think this was it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes! We really didn't think...
(END VIDEO CLIP) LIN: When we return, a closer look at the devastating damage that Charley left behind. We're going to go back to ground zero of the storm.
LIN: No place was hit harder by Charley than Punta Gorda, Florida. CNN's Anderson Cooper is there surveying the damage.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): A lot of the people here in Punta Gorda will tell you they didn't have much time to prepare. Yes, they knew the storm was coming but they thought it was going to be heading north, heading towards Tampa. Just late in the afternoon though, it changed direction headed eastward. It came straight for Punta Gorda. They only had a short time to get ready.
Some of the people you see on the road in these cars are returning to see if their homes are damaged to see what kind of destruction the storm left behind, but a lot of them are just sightseers. The law enforcement are saying that is creating a big problem for them, because the roads are actually jammed with people just slowly driving, surveying the damage. That is the last thing law enforcement wants.
You see scenes like this all over Punta Gorda today. This is some roofing material, which is wrapped around these power lines. And the power lines are creating big problems for authorities here who are trying to clean up or trying to get to various areas, because some of the power lines are actually blocking neighborhoods. So search and rescue people are having a hard time actually getting to those neighborhoods, to find out if there are any people there in need.
Wherever you go you find people's possessions just strewn all about. Here's someone's rake and a broom. Here some liquor bottles, the bottle survived. It's so strange some things make it through the storm. One house will be fine. The house next door will be completely destroyed. There is a golf cart.
Communities like Punta Gorda have experienced explosive population growth over last couple of years. So a lot of the residents here have only lived here a couple of years. They haven't actually lived through a hurricane. This is their first one. A lot of them say they simple didn't know what to expect.
In some houses the rooms look relatively untouched. These bookshelves still have books on them, still have ceramic figurines perched precariously on the top untouched. And yet in this house, you move around on the side, in this next room the entire wall has been blown away.
LIN: Isn't that amazing?
We are going to be right back with our special coverage of Hurricane Charley.
LIN: We have been showing you how bad the situation has been in some parts of Florida today. And here is how some residents have been describing Hurricane Charley.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was just devastating.
COOPER (on camera): Were you scared?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
COOPER: Yes? I mean obviously a very emotional time, but I mean how long did it last?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well for me it felt like forever. But I don't know five minutes.
COOPER: It's all right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, yes, yes, I tell you, you don't mess with Mother Nature that's for sure. My golly, I'm just so sorry for people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were here and like the wind was coming through. And it was, it sounded almost like a freight train coming through and we could hear the roof when it was coming off. It was like flapping in the breeze. And you know and like when we saw these trees fall down, it took out a power lines and everything. You know, it was crazy.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
LIN: Well, behind the damaged structures and piles of debris are real people. You've met just some of them. Many of whom have lost their homes or even their family business.
Anderson Cooper went along with one small business owner to check out the damage to his store.
COOPER (voice-over): When David Drake stepped through the broken window of his ice cream parlor it was worse than he'd imagined.
DRAKE: It's just devastating. You know it's just, you know you never expected this at all. And then all of a sudden, you know, it wiped out, you know, everything all at once.
COOPER: The ceiling was destroyed, the sitting area a mess. Almost nothing was salvageable.
DRAKE: It's scary because, you know, you know this was obviously our likelihood. I mean this is where we made our living.
COOPER: David and his family survived the storm hiding in a closet in their home.
DRAKE: You see these things on TV and you think, you know, this is something that, you know, that you don't realize what the people, you know that are in those -- that this happened to really go through.
COOPER: His house remains in tact. His business is ruined.
DRAKE: You know we laugh about it because, you know, you're tired of crying. You got to do something different. You know what I mean?
COOPER: With the toll of destruction in Punta Gorda still being calculated...
DRAKE: Good deal.
COOPER: ... David knows for him and his family Hurricane Charley could have been much worse.
DRAKE: You know, there hasn't been many major injuries or anything like that. So we're happy about that. It's going to be tough for the next, you know for the next few months.
COOPER: Do you think you'll make it?
DRAKE: Oh, we'll make it.
COOPER: Anderson Cooper, CNN Punta Gorda, Florida.
LIN: Packing intense winds, Tropical Storm Charley is making its way a now across Virginia. Many tourists decided to wait out the storm and are now hunkered down in hotels along Virginia Beach.
Earlier, CNN's Tom Foreman spoke to some of them.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Charley has moved into Virginia with considerably more force than many people expected. The winds are relatively light at the moment, but at any given moment they could almost knock you off your feet.
Now that said, most of the tourists who are here for this big tourist weekend have stayed. The hotels and condos, all up and down the beach here, are about 70 to a 100 percent full with people. and they are going to ride put the storm apparently.
The big worries is not so much the wind however, it is the water. Look at this. The ground around here has been saturated. The rainfall is very steady and very heavy, so even hundreds of miles inland that's what authorities are worried about. The flooding, particularly localized flooding, will cause big problems as this storm moves through.
LIN: Well, still ahead on our special coverage of Hurricane Charley, covering the story as you saw Tom Foreman do.
As the storm hammered Florida, some remained in the path of destruction to do their jobs. Coming up a look at the dedicated reporters and photographers who risked their lives to cover the storm of this hurricane.
LIN: You know, not everyone fled when Hurricane Charley was approaching. Some of those who stayed were journalists who gave up an up close -- or gave us actually, an up close view of it's strength and it's devastation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): This particular trailer, this home has of course a good deal of damage. But it's structurally it's still standing. Look at the one right next to it, absolutely trashed. Nothing left of this one save the kitchen wall and the family's china.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well what do you think of what you see?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just amazed, I can't believe, I don't recognize the park. I don't recognize the homes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once is enough. I'm not going through this again. I'm leaving town next time.
UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: As well listen to a couple of the interviews you had with the residents there, we realized that this story is no longer as much about the storm or the damage left behind. This is a story about people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): Every house, every mobile home, every car looks like it had some sort of damage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): And I had the Emergency Preparedness director telling me that, you know, one of the hardest things was to hear the 911 call that some of these people made, when it was too late to go out and help them without putting their own rescue workers at risk. And there was just no help for these people. And some of them undoubtedly have perished in their homes because they didn't evacuate when they were told to.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): Just going to give you a little tour here of what things looks like. This is actually the hangar that we are approaching right now. You can actually see if Alison can show you, this is the plane that was inside. They say that this plane spun 36- degrees because of all of the wind from Hurricane Charley, as the roof was blowing off as the winds were blowing this evening. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): When you see airplanes lifted up, moving down the runway and there is not a pilot, it's time to be scared.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): People brought us dinner. We eventually found somebody who offered us a place to stay last night. So (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the midst of a possible disaster was nothing but giving to us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (on camera): What did it sound like? What were people doing? Where did you go? Did you stay away from windows?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it sounded -- it sounded like a bomb going off. I mean things were hitting the hotel, things flying through the air.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): The areas that I've been have the tell tale signs that you've seen. Of course, all of us are thinking about Andrew. And I'm not sure that that in the end is going to be a badly placed comparison.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
LIN: Well, while Florida tallies the devastation from Charley, the hurricane weekend and was downgraded to a tropical storm as it turned into the Carolinas. But flooding rains from Charley will spread through the mid Atlantic into New England tonight and tomorrow. Forecast call for two inches of rain in most parts and up to six inches in some areas.
And you have to stay right with us with CNN because we are going to continue our live coverage of Hurricane Charley.
At 10:00 p.m. Eastern in our prime time show, Anderson Cooper is going to join me from Punta Gorda to sort through the devastation and the damage that the storm has left behind. The rescue and recovery efforts continue long after the storm has past. So please join us at 10 p.m. Eastern.
Larry King is next.
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