Rescue teams searched door-to-door today through a panorama of catastrophe as ominous reports of multiple deaths emerged from the devastation delivered by Hurricane Charley.
One emergency manager spoke of ''a number of fatalities'' and said he ordered 60 body bags. The federal government dispatched a 25-member mortuary team to the area. The known death count stood at five, but seemed likely to rise dramatically.
Scores were left injured, hundreds or thousands left homeless.
Gutted buildings, mangled vehicles and crushed mobile homes littered a vast swath of the state. Damage estimates stretched into the billions, and hundreds of thousands of customers endured a second day of power blackouts.
Miami Herald staffers reported collapsed roofs, 200 yards of missing beach and twisted boat docks on Captiva Island, a collapsed church and trailer parks reduced to rubble in Port Charlotte, gutted condominium buildings and wrecked shopping centers in Punta Gorda.
No doubt remained: Coast-to-coast calamity swept into Southwest and Central Florida along with Hurricane Charley's 145 mph wind and 10-foot storm surge.
''It's Andrew all over again,'' Wayne Sallade, Charlotte County's director of emergency management, told the Associated Press. ``We believe there's significant loss of life.''
He said that an unknown number of people died at a mobile home park in Punta Gorda, one of the areas hit hardest Friday by Charley.
He confirmed deaths in at least three other areas of Charlotte County and told CNN he ordered the 60 body bags and requested the arrival of two refrigerated trucks. He said he did not believe that all 60 bags would be required, but he requested that number as a precaution.
Unconfirmed reports surfaced of other possible fatalities in the area. Rescue workers from Miami-Dade County, Broward County, the Tampa-St. Petersburg region and other areas around the state flocked to the region and searched for the dead and injured.
Sallade called the destruction in his county ``catastrophic.''
About 15,000 people live in Punta Gorda, which sustained a direct strike when Charley strengthened into a fierce Category 4 hurricane, changed direction at nearly the last minute and slammed into Florida's Gulf Coast at Sanibel Island and Port Charlotte.
The storm finally retreated from Florida this morning, refueling over the Atlantic for an assault on the rest of the Atlantic seaboard. It weakened substantially, but remained potent, striking South Carolina this morning with 85 mph wind.
And if left behind in Florida uncalculable misery and debris.
State officials said it might take days to fully assess the devastation, but leading indicators were not promising.
''Help is coming,'' said Craig Fugate, the state's director of emergency management. ``A lot of people are scared, a lot of people have lost their homes, damages are going up.
From Punta Gorda to Port Charlotte, Arcadia to Kissimmee, Orlando to Daytona Beach, evacuees left shelters and returned to homes missing windows, roofs and walls. Residents who rode it out took advantage of daylight to assess their property -- and their lives.
Punta Gorda might have taken the brunt of the damage.
Parts of the city were pitch black overnight, except for the red lights of police and emergency vehicles and the headlights of cars. The storm gutted buildings, leaving frames standing, and scattered debris across streets and parking lots.
A bridal shop in downtown Punta Gorda seemed to collapse from all sides, forming tents of metal. A clothing rack poked out from the side of the scraps.
Among the other initial reports of injury and damage:
At Charlotte Regional Medical Center in Punta Gorda, 40 people sought treatment for storm injuries, the Associated Press reported. The hospital was so badly damaged that many patients were transferred to other hospitals.
Much of the roof was blown off Fawcett Memorial Hospital, a 238-bed acute-care facility in Port Charlotte.
About 160 homes were destroyed and another 160 damaged in Lee County.
A partial roof collapse was reported at the sheriff's office in Charlotte County.
A fire of unknown origin erupted in Hardee County's Emergency Operations Center.
In Orlando, the historic Winter Park neighborhood just north of downtown was littered with fallen oak trees.
''There are a bunch of crushed cars and one guy's wall came off,'' said Tiffany Burrows, 25, who got a head start inspecting the damage in her neighborhood Friday night. ``One guy's boat is now on top of his water pump.
''It's really bad,'' she said. ``But we have plenty of beer.''
Forecasters said that Charley brought 77 mph winds and a 105 mph gust to McCoy Airport in Orlando and they had a report of 92-mph gusts in Sanford.
Charley also destroyed the northeast exterior wall of the Doubletree Guest Suites in Lake Buena Vista, forcing the hotel management to move five guests -- including a Herald reporter -- to other rooms.
''We're sorry, sir, but we've had to move you to another room because your wall blew out,'' the front desk clerk explained.
General Manager Jeff Weinthaler said the sheer force of the wind dislodged the outer wall. Insulation, stucco and construction material rained down on the hotel tennis court, leaving the interior wall mostly intact -- but exposed.
''We assessed the damage and decided that the safety of the residents on that side of the hotel was at risk,'' he said.
In Daytona Beach, officials ordered a mandatory evacuation of mobile homes and more than 2,000 people jammed Volusia County's 28 shelters.
Among them was Margaret Denham, 64, a retired cashier at Universal Studios. She, her daughter and two grandchildren arrived at the Palm Terrace Elementary School fearing the worst after nervously watching television reports about Charley.
''Our roof isn't going to stand the pressure,'' Denham said as she paged through a Bible. ``This sounds about as frightening as I can remember.''
Not until close to midnight did the wind that uprooted trees begin to subside in Volusia -- a sign that Charley was departing the state.
And so, the storm finally retreated to the ocean, but it was not quite through with the United States.
Forecasters expected it to make landfall again Saturday near Charleston, S.C., and then roam along the coast all the way to Maine, touching virtually every state along the way. It remained capable of inflicting harm, but it was expected to weaken rather steadily.
At the same time, more trouble was reported over the horizon.
Forecasters tracked two new tropical systems, including one that seemed to harbor major ambitions. It was expected to roll through the Windward Islands on Sunday, grow into a hurricane and follow a path frighteningly similar to that of Charley.
Still, it was Charley that dominated the tropical weather agenda in Florida on Saturday.
The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department deployed three rescue vehicles, two fire engines and support personnel to Seminole County's Emergency Operations Center, under the state's mutual aid plan. The deployment could last up to two weeks, the department said.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said in a radio interview that other than ''a couple of roof collapses'' and a ``significant canopy loss . . . we consider ourselves very lucky. We have had no reports of any health-related injuries, which is always a concern.''
Dyer also reported one incident of looting during the storm -- thieves who drove a van through the front window of a Circle K and made off with merchandise.
Downtown Orlando, which took a direct hit from 70 mph winds, sustained only downed trees, street signs and a few broken street lights. Power crews began work around 10 p.m. to restore power to some 120,000 customers without power in Orange County.
Of course, some people fared worse than others -- and all marveled at what had happened. This was Orlando -- hurricanes weren't supposed to happen here.
''I think we must have gotten the worst of it,'' said Winter Park resident Don Delzingaro, 41, who was outside with a flashlight inspecting an enormous fallen oak tree in the road in front of his house.
''We've got no power, no phone,'' he said. ``People are really hurting here. We're really lucky no one was hurt. This is crazy. I've never seen anything like this.''
Rob Ellmore, 30, said a fallen oak flattened his mother's car in Lake Mary, a town about 20 miles north of Orlando. ''Smashed the windows and flattened all four tires,'' he said. ``Brand new Subaru Outback. Four months old.''
Herald staff writers Marc Caputo, Lesley Clark, Gary Fineout, David Kidwell and Jennifer Mooney Piedra contributed to this report.