Counties estimate billions in damages
Florida is marred by a 200-mile-by-30 mile path of destruction.
PUNTA GORDA, Fla. -- Rescue teams searched door-to-door through a panorama of gutted buildings, mangled vehicles and splintered trailers Saturday as reports of multiple deaths emerged from the coast-to-coast calamity delivered by Hurricane Charley.
The statewide death count stood at 17, according to local officials, and seemed likely to rise. Scores were left injured, tens of thousands homeless, hundreds of thousands dazed.
"Our worst fears have come true," Gov. Jeb Bush said after completing a helicopter tour of the region. "Clearly, there was major devastation."
His brother, President Bush, planned to survey the region today.
Towns hit hardest
Ten deaths were reported in Charlotte County, including Punta Gorda, the disaster's apparent epicenter. The county's emergency manager said he ordered 60 body bags, hoping they all weren't needed.
The governor called Punta Gorda "a community destroyed, in essence" by Charley's 145-mph wind and 10-foot storm surge.
Rubble sprawled across nearly the entire bayside city. A steeple served as testament to where a church building once stood. Cars parked in what had been a garage were piled atop one another, the floors that once separated them no longer in existence.
"This town got pulverized," said resident Jerry Luyk.
And that was just one corner of a vast swath of Southwest and Central Florida littered by catastrophe -- an area 200 miles long and at least 30 miles wide. Another hard-hit area: mobile home parks and other facilities in and near the ranching town of Arcadia.
Access to many remote areas remained blocked by debris or police, but the extent of at least some of the damage came into focus when viewed by air, sea and, in some cases, land.
Visible were caved-in roofs, a new inlet created by 200 yards of submerged beach and twisted boat docks on Captiva Island, a collapsed furniture store and trailer parks reduced to rubble in Port Charlotte, gutted condominium buildings and wrecked shopping centers in Punta Gorda.
Entire mobile home parks were flattened near Arcadia, a historic ranching town about 30 miles from the coast. The town's business district appeared to be in good shape, but more fragile buildings like the rodeo arena and county fairgrounds sustained severe damage.
Damage estimates stretched well into the billions. More than 1.3 million customers endured a second day of power blackouts. Water service did not exist for residents of Arcadia, Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda.
Fort Myers and the rest of Lee County reported $3.3 billion in damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said that 80 percent of the buildings in Charlotte County -- and every mobile home -- sustained damage. Dead cows wrapped in barbed wire sprawled beside roads in DeSoto County.
Adding to the misery: Thunderstorms swept the area Saturday, raining on homes without roofs and people without homes.
In the eroded sands of Captiva Island, someone etched these words, large enough to be seen from the air: "Send Beer."
Looting flared in some areas. Insurance companies mobilized adjusters. State officials warned that they would prosecute price gougers.
"One of the most egregious things a business can do is to take advantage of our citizens through price gouging," said state Attorney General Charlie Crist.
"It brought back very vivid memories for me personally and going through Andrew and seeing similar destruction," the governor said of the hurricane that bulldozed much of South Miami-Dade in 1992.
Bush and others noted one difference: the lessons learned from the slow state and federal response to that disaster.
"While this is a day of complete devastation, and there's a lot of sadness in people's hearts right now," he said, "I'm absolutely convinced that within a shorter period of time than Andrew, people's hearts are going to be lifted."
Charley moved north
Hundreds of miles north, Charley's course took it across open ocean, missing the westward curving shore of Georgia. It made its second landfall on South Carolina's Grand Strand resort region, which was nearly empty after a mandatory evacuation of some of the area's 180,000 tourists and residents.
National Guard troops were on duty Saturday in North Carolina, where a mandatory evacuation order was in effect for vulnerable coastal areas hit less than two weeks ago by Hurricane Alex.
In Virginia, Gov. Mark R. Warner declared a state of emergency. Charley-related weather was forecast as far north as Massachusetts.