Charley's Charge: Hundreds Missing

The Daily Telegraph


August 16, 2004

RESCUE teams began clawing through the wreckage of thousands of homes yesterday in the hope of finding survivors after hurricane Charley left a 320km trail of devastation across Florida.

At least 16 people are dead but officials said hundreds of people were still missing. Tens of thousands are homeless.

At the Lazy Lagoon Mobile Park in Punta Gorda  the epicentre of the destruction  bodies littered the streets.

Twenty-five officers were searching for missing people, and a dog trained to find hidden corpses was brought in. Many mobile homes were reduced to piles of matchwood and twisted aluminium.

Rubble was strewn across the bayside city. Cars parked in what had been a garage were piled atop one another, the floors that once separated them destroyed.

"This town got pulverised," resident Jerry Luyk said.

Director of emergency services Wayne Sallade said trying to establish how many people had died was difficult.

"We're going around knocking on doors  when we can find a door. If there's no reply, we're smashing it down to see if anyone is inside," he said.

A vast swath of southwest and central Florida is a disaster area.

Near Orlando, a four-year-old girl was crushed when a 50-tonne truck was blown across a freeway and landed on her family's car.

Near Daytona Beach, on the east coast, a woman was electrocuted by a broken power cable.

Governor Jeb Bush, who toured the area by helicopter, said: "Our worst fears have come true. There was major devastation."

More than 1.3 million people endured a second day without power, and many areas had no water.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said 80 per cent of the buildings in Charlotte County  including all three hospitals  had been damaged.

Two thousand National Guard troops and 800 police officers patrolled or guarded the area as dozens of shelters served 12,000 suddenly homeless people.

In the eroded sands of Captiva Island, someone had etched the words "Send Beer", large enough to be seen from the air.

President Bush has declared Florida a disaster area, clearing the way for federal aid.

An elderly woman was killed when a tornado hit a New Zealand farmhouse early yesterday.

The dead woman's seriously injured daughter and two grandchildren were found in a field 50m from their shattered home near NewPlymouth, on the North Island.