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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 August, 2004, 03:50 GMT 04:50 UK
Thirteen die in Florida hurricane
Damage at a trailer park in Punta Gorda
The hurricane took many people by surprise
State officials say 13 have died in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Charley which swept across the state, causing widespread destruction.

Packing winds of up to 145mph (230km/h), Charley landed further south on Florida's Gulf coast than predicted, catching some residents by surprise.

Earlier estimates put the death toll at 15, but the figure could rise again.

The hurricane, the strongest to hit Florida in a dozen years, has weakened and is moving over South Carolina.

Unprepared

The worst-hit communities appear to be Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte in Charlotte County. They have requested 60 body bags be sent to one mobile home park in Punta Gorda, a town of some 15,000, which took the full force of the storm, with few buildings left untouched.


"Our worst fears have come true," said Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who flew over Punta Gorda by helicopter.

Charley came ashore on Friday at 1550 (1950 GMT) at Punta Gorda, catching many residents unprepared because it was believed the storm would hit further north.

"This type of hurricane only happens once every 100 years, they say," Harry Thomas told Reuters as he looked at his destroyed motel in Port Charlotte.

I could hear the nails coming out of the roof. The walls were shaking violently, back and forth, back and forth
Anne Correia

The hurricane ploughed across central Florida, uprooting trees and power lines, and dumping heavy rains.

More than one million people have been left without electricity and hundreds of thousands without water.

Heather Stone from Cape Coral said she and her family taken refuge under a mattress in a bathroom.

"There's a hospital about 100 yards from our house, and in the maternity ward the roof blew off while a woman was in labour."

"I could hear the nails coming out of the roof. The walls were shaking violently, back and forth, back and forth," said Anne Correia, who hid in a wardrobe in her flat in Punta Gorda.

Heading north

President George W Bush, the governor's brother, will travel to Florida on Sunday to see the damage for himself, the White House has said.

"The president wants to take a firsthand look at damage from Charley and make sure people affected by Charley are getting the assistance they need," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Mr Bush has already declared the region a disaster area, which means federal funds can be spent on the clean-up.

People in South and North Carolina have been warned to take precautions as Charley, although now much weaker, heads their way.

Before reaching land in Florida, the hurricane increased to category four - the second most severe on the five-level Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale.

Florida officials say Charley is the worst storm to hit their state since 1992 when Hurricane Andrew caused billions of dollars worth of damage in Miami.

At least three people died when the hurricane passed over western Cuba on Friday.

Charley has also been blamed for one death in Jamaica on Thursday.

In a rare gesture, the US offered Cuba $50,000 (about 28,000) to help pay for damage caused by the hurricane.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Ingham
"Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for"



SEE ALSO:
Hurricanes boost Nature's chances
22 Apr 04  |  Science/Nature
'Two die' as storm strikes Canada
29 Sep 03  |  Americas
Three dead in Mexico hurricane
23 Sep 03  |  Americas
Bush pledges hurricane aid
23 Sep 03  |  Americas
Vicious circles
22 Aug 99  |  Science/Nature


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