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Rescuers in Florida Search Through Hurricane Debris For Missing - 2004-08-14

A weakened Hurricane Charley struck the coast of the U.S. State of South Carolina on Saturday. On Friday, Charley struck the state of Florida, creating a path of destruction across the state. At least 10 deaths are reported in Florida, but that toll is expected to rise.

President Bush declared parts of Florida a disaster area, and pledged federal assistance to help rebuild storm-battered parts of the state. The White House says he plans to visit the area Sunday, to assess the damage and assistance efforts.

Most damage occurred in southwestern Florida, where Hurricane Charley came ashore on Friday as a Category Four storm, on a scale of one to five.

Winds of more than 230 kilometers an hour struck the town of Punta Gorda, about 160 kilometers south of the city of Tampa. Most casualties reported so far occurred in many of the more than 30 mobile home parks in the area. Gabriel Stanige and his wife returned on Saturday to their mobile home in Punta Gorda, destroyed by the storm, along with nearly every other mobile home in the neighborhood.

"I said, you know, there would be some flooding in here. We had seen flooding in here before; it is a low lying area. But, we were not expecting the winds, and I do not think anyone was," he said. "When it upgraded to a Category Four, I knew we were in trouble. But we had made the decision not to stay in here, so we went to a school. They lost their generators and their air conditioner, and they are going to have to close that down."

Authorities urged more than two million people living along the coast of western Florida to evacuate as Charley approached. About one million people left the area, but many chose to stay. Florida Governor Jeb Bush says those who perished in the storm may have ignored the warnings.

"I have worried as governor that, with each passing year, and so many new people moving into our communities, I have always worried about 'hurricane amnesia.' You have to go through one and experience it, to realize it is going to happen, and when it does, you have to be out of harm's way," explained Mr. Bush. "So, to the extent that message got out, and I believe a lot of people did heed it, that is good news. To the extent that it did not, will be part of the reasons there are tragedies today. "

Hurricane Charley is the worst storm to strike Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Governor Bush says, however, that damage caused by Andrew was limited to the Miami area, whereas damage from Charley is spread out across the state. He says damage estimates will be in the billions of dollars.

Authorities have mobilized National Guard units to protect storm affected areas, and are promising to prosecute anyone caught looting, or any merchant caught raising prices to take advantage of shortages caused by Hurricane Charley.