HURRICANE CHARLEY Federal aid helps Florida begin process of recovery

Municipal employees in one of the hardest-hit areas went back to work today.
PUNTA GORDA, Fla. (AP) -- Federal disaster assistance money started flowing to Hurricane Charley's victims and postal workers handed out mail today outside their damaged building, but hundreds of thousands still had no phones, no running water, no diapers for the baby and no gas to fill the tank.
"After you live through it, you can't imagine how desperate you get," said Barbara Winslow, who was waiting in line for diapers, food, water and ice at a National Guard comfort station. "You don't have anything. If the end of the world came tomorrow, this is what it would look like."
Federal Emergency Management Agency director Mike Brown visited Punta Gorda today and said $2 million in payments had already been issued to victims, with more on the way. He said the agency had received 23,500 applications seeking relief, including 13,000 on Monday alone.
"We have just started the recovery process of Hurricane Charley," Brown said.
Back in business
There were other small signs of progress today.
At 7:45 a.m., the U.S. flag was raised at the heavily damaged main post office in Punta Gorda as 60 employees said the Pledge of Allegiance, cheered and applauded. Then, they went to work for the first time since Charley struck.
"We're back in business," declared Postmaster Doug Burns.
The building's front windows and sliding glass doors were blown out, sections of the roof were missing and insulation from a nearby business was plastered across rental mailboxes. Since people could not get to the boxes, Postal Service employees handed out mail in a drive-through operation.
Elsewhere in Punta Gorda, municipal employees went to work today putting back up stop signs and street signs.
"Most of them are bent so we dig them out, straighten them up and dig them back in again," worker Trevor Day said.
About 640,000 people remained without power today, state officials said, estimating it could take weeks to get electricity fully restored. At least 150,000 were without local phone service.
"I just want something to eat," house cleaner Willie Mae Robinson said as she waited for canned goods and ice with several dozen others at an old train depot in Bowling Green, where temperatures soared into the high 80s. "I have something for today but I don't have anything for tomorrow."
Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte were among the hardest-hit areas as Charley tore across the state Friday, and 25 of Florida's 67 counties were designated federal disaster areas. Officials estimate Charley caused as much as $11 billion in damage to insured homes alone.
Early today, state emergency management spokeswoman Tameeka Forbes said the death toll had been raised from 18 to 19, but no further details on the new reported death were immediately released. Earlier, Charley killed four people in Cuba and one in Jamaica.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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