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Florida Struggles for Normalcy in Wake of Hurricane Charley - 2004-08-17

Officials in the southern U.S. state of Florida say the death toll from Hurricane Charley, now stands at 19. Four died in Cuba and one person in Jamaica as a result of the storm, which tore a path through Florida before moving out into the Atlantic Ocean. Relief supplies and financial assistance are flowing into southwest Florida, but authorities say it will be weeks before life returns to normal.

Federal officials say millions of dollars in emergency payments have been disbursed to victims of the storm and more aid is on the way.

More than half a million people in Florida are still without power and authorities are warning people who live in storm-affected areas to boil their water to prevent outbreaks of disease. More than 100,000 people are also without phone service.

Roads remain clogged and there are long lines at service stations and other stores where people are attempting to buy supplies to begin cleaning up their neighborhoods and repairing their homes.

Delrish Moss, a City of Miami police detective detailed to the hard-hit town of Punta Gorda, says there are likely to be many injuries, and even deaths in coming days, as people attempt to clean up after the storm.

"Certainly the potential is there, because people will be up on their roofs, where the structure is not safe," he said. "There is always the possibility that people will try and operate generators inside, or try to refuel them while they are hot, which is something you should not do because of the fire hazard. People using tools that they are not normally accustomed to using."

The huge cleanup and reconstruction effort is expected to create an economic boom in Florida, as billions of dollars insurance claims will be spent in coming months on rebuilding the region's infrastructure and on rebuilding homes and businesses. For now though, many in tourist-dependent southwest Florida like Chef Christopher Colder are out of work.

"I am just going to try and survive through it," he said. "There are no words to describe it. I have kids and I do not know what I am going to do."

Authorities report only a handful of arrests in the region from looting and other public disturbances. That compares favorably with the widespread breakdown of law and order that occurred in the Miami area following Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Miami police detective Delrish Moss, says one reason for the relative tranquility is that Hurricane Charley was confined to a much smaller area, with a smaller population.

"From what we have seen, at least in Charlotte County, it is a much calmer situation," he said. "You have so much law enforcement that got here quickly, but for the most part, people have just not acted in that fashion. Even though there reports that some equipment was taken from a fire station, the minute the police left, there is that element, but on a much smaller scale. You also have a much smaller population.

Florida's citrus industry, the state's second-largest industry after tourism, was hard hit by the storm. Citrus insurers say about a third of the 324,000 hectares planted to citrus crops in Florida were destroyed by Hurricane Charley. Overall damage estimates from Hurricane Charley range from seven to $11 billion.