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President Bush Tours Hurricane Damage in Florida - 2004-08-15


President Bush toured hurricane-ravaged parts of Florida on Sunday, pledging aid and support to help rebuild the region. Hurricane Charley left at least 16 dead in Florida, and caused at least $5 billion worth of property damage.

Two days after Hurricane Charley left parts of Florida a disaster area, President Bush toured the region with his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush. After meeting with residents of the hard-hit town of Punta Gorda, Mr. Bush said help is on the way.

"A lot of people's lives are turned upside down," he said. "We have ice and water moving in. Trailers for people to live in are moving in. The state is providing security, so that people can have peace of mind that their neighborhoods can be safe. There is a lot of compassion moving into the area. The Red Cross is here. What I am telling them is, there is a lot of help moving into this part of the world. It is going to take a while to rebuild it, but the government's job is to help people rebuild their lives, and that is what is happening."

Mr. Bush said his visit had nothing to do with the current presidential campaign, saying he would have been criticized for not visiting. Senator John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president, says he will not visit Florida at this time, but will ask his staff to help with relief efforts.

Residents of the hard-hit towns of Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte, where Hurricane Charley caused the most damage are without the most basic services, power and water. Local authorities say it could be weeks before power is fully restored.

Walt Myers who helped to manage a condominium in Punta Gorda that was totally destroyed by the storm, told a local television station he and his neighbors are just glad to have survived.

"Well, I think it is a disaster. We took a direct hit from Charley. We were fortunate that we did not have more damage, and we were very fortunate that not one of the 35 people who were here got a single scratch," he said.

National Guard troops are patrolling hard-hit areas to help maintain law and order.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson told reporters in Punta Gorda on Sunday that authorities will also do everything possible to stop price-gouging (exploiting the situation to raise prices) and insurance fraud, which have hurt storm victims in the past.

"Of course, it [fraud] is going to occur. Human nature being what it is, there are those who are going to take advantage of people," he said. "That is why the local government is clearly alerted to this. The present insurance commissioner has his fraud people out there, checking on this, and the local police and sheriff's department are checking on it, and I am sure the attorney general will be, as well."

Hurricane Charley was the worst storm to strike Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which caused $19 billion in damage. Initial damage estimates for Charley indicate the storm caused between $5-and-$11 billion worth of damage, based on the value of homes and insurance polices on property in the storm's path.

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