Hurricane Charley Strikes Florida

Hurricane Charley struck west-central Florida with a wicked mix of wind and water Friday, ripping off roofs, tearing apart small planes and inundating the coastline before moving inland to assault Orlando and Daytona Beach.


PUNTA GORDA, Fla. (AP) -- Hurricane Charley struck west-central Florida with a wicked mix of wind and water Friday, ripping off roofs, tearing apart small planes and inundating the coastline before moving inland to assault Orlando and Daytona Beach.

The Friday the 13th hurricane struck the mainland at Charlotte Harbor as a Category 4 storm with winds reaching 145 mph and a wall of water up to 15 feet high.

President Bush declared a federal disaster area for the regions in Florida affected by Charley and Tropical Storm Bonnie, which hit the Panhandle on Thursday. Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, projected damage from Charley would exceed $15 billion.

``Early indications ... are that this storm has had a devastating effect as it has hit our state,'' Gov. Bush said.

There were reports of widespread damage, with more than 340,000 customers losing power. Two people died in traffic accidents during the storm.

An estimated 1.4 million people evacuated before the strongest hurricane to strike Florida since Andrew in 1992. Charley had rapidly gained strength in the Gulf of Mexico after crossing Cuba and swinging around the Florida Keys as a more moderate Category 2 storm Friday morning.

The hurricane reached landfall at 3:45 p.m. EDT, when the eye passed over the barrier islands between Fort Myers and Punta Gorda, some 110 miles southeast of the Tampa Bay area that includes Tampa and St. Petersburg.

``We are ground zero for Hurricane Charley,'' said Wayne Sallade, director of emergency management in Charlotte County.

The hurricane hit the mainland 30 minutes later, with storm surge flooding of 10 to 15 feet, the National Hurricane Center said.

The surge ``is going to be the main killer,'' said Max Mayfield, director of the hurricane center in Miami. ``This is the nightmare scenario that we've been talking about for years. ...

``You've got roofs blowing off. It's going to be bad. Real bad.''

Nearly 1 million people live within 30 miles of the landfall.

Sallade was angry that forecasters underestimated the intensity of the storm until shortly before landfall.

``They told us for years they don't forecast hurricane intensity well and unfortunately, we know that now,'' he said. ``This magnitude storm was never predicted.''

There were reports of damage in Cape Coral, Sanibel Island and North Fort Myers. The roof, windows and doors were damaged at Cape Coral Hospital, said Gordon DeMarchi, public information officer at the Lee County emergency management center, but no injuries were reported.

About 120,000 customers lost power in Lee County -- including the emergency management center.

Some 335,000 Florida Power & Light customers lost power. Progress Energy reported more than 11,000 customers without power south of Orlando.

There was at least two reported fatalities during the storm: A crash on Interstate 75 in Sarasota County killed one person, and a wind gust caused a truck to collide with a car in Orange County, killing a young girl.

Don Paterson of Punta Gorda rode out the hurricane in his trailer. It began to rock, a flying microwave oven hit him in the head, and then the refrigerator fell on him. He spent the rest of the storm hiding behind a lawnmower, and his home was demolished.

``Happy Friday the 13th,'' he sniffed.

The eye passed directly over Punta Gorda, a city of 15,000 on Charlotte Harbor. At Charlotte Country Airport, wind tore apart small planes, and one flew down the runway as if it were taking off. The storm spun a parked pickup truck 180 degrees, blew the windows out of a sheriff's deputy's car and ripped the roof off an 80- by 100-foot building.

As Charley bore down on the region, many streets were deserted as residents were told to stay home or head to shelters, and even the Charlotte County emergency operation center had to be evacuated. The wind snapped pine trees in half, and offshore the gulf churned like water in a washing machine.

This content continues onto the next page...