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Last Updated: Monday, 16 August, 2004, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Bush visits hurricane-hit Florida
A man pulls belongings out of the wreckage of a mobile home park in Punta Gorda
The hurricane was the worst in Florida for more than a decade
President George W Bush has visited Florida to see the devastation caused by a hurricane that killed at least 16 people and left many homeless.

He joined his brother, Florida State Governor Jeb Bush, for a helicopter flight over the worst-hit areas.

Emergency workers are still picking their way through the debris. Initial estimates put the damage to property between $5bn and $11bn.

The hurricane also hit North and South Carolina but in a weaker form.

The president said the federal and Florida state authorities were working together closely to bring relief to those whose lives had been "turned upside down" by the hurricane.

"The spirit of America really shines" at times of catastrophe, he said. "You're beginning to see neighbour helping neighbour."

'All the same'

Officials raised the number of deaths on Sunday and warned that more people could have died.

People are still working to salvage their possessions two days after Hurricane Charley struck.

Punta Gorda, a town of some 15,000, took the full force of the storm, with few buildings left untouched.

To explore this area is to see untold devastation, says the BBC's Daniel Lak in Punta Gorda - with mile after mile of streets with wrecked homes, trailer parks full of twisted heaps of metal and everywhere, fallen trees and powerlines.

We're all the same, we all have nothing
Tina Rowe

After surveying this, President Bush told reporters later that it was one of the worst things he had ever seen.

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

Convoys of federal and state government officials are on the move trying to assess the most immediate needs: power, clean water, ice to preserve food and first aid kits.

Friends, neighbours and relatives are pitching in to clear rubble and salvage possessions, but many people here have lost everything, our correspondent says.

"We're all the same, we all have nothing," said Tina Rowe, who had lost her own home and was comforting a sobbing elderly man at an emergency shelter.

'No politicking'

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

Both Mr Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry appear to be trying to play down any political aspect to the disaster in Florida - a crucial state in November's presidential election, correspondents say.

Mr Kerry has said he does not intend to visit Florida in the aftermath of the hurricane so as not to disrupt relief work.

Packing winds of up to 145mph (230km/h), 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.

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

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.

The BBC's Daniel Lak reports from Florida
"Florida's economy has been deeply hit by this storm"

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