Another cleanup in post-hurricane Florida under way
FORT PIERCE, Fla. – Floridians were again settling into the discomforts of a post-hurricane reality: lines for bags of ice or a hot meal, damaged homes that will take months to repair, and stifling heat and darkness amid widespread power outages.
Hurricane Jeanne, the fourth storm to hammer the state in six weeks, has left behind a trail of death, destruction and frustration.
“We’re weary. We’re tired. We have been doing this for more than 30 days,” said Jay Clark, the owner of CYS Yacht Management and Sales in Fort Pierce, on Monday. “Preparation, then cleanup. Preparation, then cleanup.”
Tom Gallagher, Florida’s top insurance regulator, believes Jeanne added $6 billion in insured losses to nearly $12 billion estimated from Charley, Frances and Ivan, for a total that beats the $15 billion tally from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the world’s costliest natural disaster at the time. At least 79 people have been killed by the four storms in Florida.
“These people are in hurricane shock,” Gallagher said Tuesday. He noted his estimate of private insurance claims for Jeanne does not include a high rate of flood damage, which is covered by a federal program.
Insured damage figures, in current dollars, are approaching the $22 billion record for a hurricane season set in 1992 by Andrew and Iniki, which devastated the Hawaiian island of Kauai, according to Fitch Holdings, a British risk management agency. Overall damage is usually about double the insured total, experts have said.
Jeanne killed at least six people in Florida during the weekend, bearing down upon the state with winds of 120 mph. Two others died in South Carolina as the remnants moved through late Monday. The havoc caused by the four hurricanes have prompted the largest relief effort ever undertaken by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
President Bush asked Congress late Monday for more than $7.1 billion to help Florida and other Southeastern states recover. His third request for additional storm aid brings total possible funds to at least $12.2 billion.
Patience was in demand at staging areas along the state’s central Atlantic coast, where volunteers from the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross passed out bags of ice and containers of water to help residents keep cool under temperatures in the high 80s and massive power outages.
In Indialantic, a line of 40 cars waited in the parking lot of a strip mall where volunteers loaded bags of ice from a semitrailer that arrived from St. Louis. Residents left homes without electricity to dine on hot plates of ravioli and corn and bottles of Snapple.
“It hasn’t been a fun month,” said Louann Dowling, 40, of Satellite Beach, who picked up food and ice for her four children. Dowling said her husband lost his job in the telecommunications industry after Frances and she has had her hours cut back.
Florida is the first state to get pounded by four hurricanes in one season since Texas in 1886. Two months remain in the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season.
At the only Home Depot in Vero Beach, 75 people waited for tarps, gas cans and other supplies to begin repairing their homes. In a separate line, 25 people waited for generators on the promise that a shipment of 300 was on the way.
In Fort Pierce, Gladys Caldwell knew exactly how long she had waited for water and ice at a distribution station – “two hours and 18 minutes” – but could keep it all in perspective. The city’s historic downtown area was marked by dangling power lines and flooded roads.
“I thank God that at least I have part of my house,” Caldwell said. “Some people lost everything.”
The unprecedented relief effort includes more than 5,000 FEMA workers spread over 15 states. Nearly 3,800 National Guardsmen were providing security, directing traffic, distributing supplies and keeping gas lines orderly.
In Florida alone, relief workers have passed out at least 16 million meals, 9 million gallons of water and nearly 59 million pounds of ice over the course of the four storms, state officials said.
Jeanne also caused more problems to two key industries in Florida: citrus and tourism.
Florida citrus growers lost about half of their grapefruit crop during Frances. And with the ground soaked from previous storms, trees toppled more easily this time. Fruit was scattered throughout groves.
Orlando’s theme parks closed for the third time this season during Jeanne, and many hotels along the Atlantic coast were heavily damaged.
Earlier, Jeanne caused flooding in Haiti that killed more than 1,500 people. The storm weakened after plowing across Florida, but brought heavy rain and fierce wind to the already-soggy South.
In Georgia, the storm’s remnants toppled trees, washed out dozens of roads and flooded low-lying areas. Tornadoes spawned by the storm also destroyed buildings in South Carolina, where two deaths were blamed on the storm.
Nearly 1.9 million homes and businesses were still without power from Jeanne. About 40,000 people in the Panhandle were without electricity in the area hit by Ivan.
Associated Press writers Mike Schneider in Vero Beach and Ron Word in Indialantic contributed to this report.
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