Rescuers Search Door-To-Door As Multiple Deaths Reported In Charley's Wake

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.


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.

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