Business, Residents Start to Repair

Gerard Campanella stared at the shell of his bicycle shop Sunday and wondered what would become of his six employees. Then he remembered that this shop was his life, and wondered what would become of him.

"I spend more time here than I do at my house," Campanella said as he stared at the blown out windows and the collapsed ceiling covering his scooters, bikes and four-wheelers. "I'm probably going to have to get a job. I don't know."

As Sunday dawned and the 6 a.m. curfew expired, the people of Charlotte County were waking from the nightmare of Hurricane Charley (search) and f York and said, 'We're moving in,"' Walt Myers said.

Across the parking lot, 88-year-old Lela Schosek sat in her daughter Nancy Hickson's van munching a turkey-and-cheese sandwich. The trailer where she had lived for 34 years was destroyed, and she's back living with her kids -- where they're using ditch water to flush the toilets.

"She's been after me to move in with her for a long time," she said. "Now I have to. Eventually, you just lose control."

Thousands upon thousands have been left homeless in Charlotte County. The 27 residents at the Bread of Life Mission (search) are wondering whether they will be even less visible than they were before.

The women's and men's dormitories lost their roofs, and the laundry area was demolished. On Sunday, the residents were camped out under a tarp stretched over plastic piping.

Shelter manager Gary Eldridge said some regular donors had brought some produce by Saturday. But they hadn't seen a government truck yet.

"The rich come first," the mute man wrote on a tiny notebook. "Always have, always will."

Twelve-year-old Stephen Litwin said his mother brought him and brother Jonathan, 13, to Punta Gorda two months ago to "make a fresh start." He naively thought he'd be going back to Punta Gorda Middle by Tuesday -- until he saw that his portable classroom had blown away.

As bad as the residential damage was, the business district along the harbor and Peace River took the brunt of the storm. All up and down U.S. 41, shops and chain stores were without roofs and walls.

Business people who have even a remote chance of reopening when power is restored were jumping into action.

Shortly after dawn Sunday, partners Kevin McCord and Ryan Jenkins were shirtless on the sub-roof of their medical supply store in downtown Punta Gorda. They got the last 13 rolls of tarpaper from a Home Depot and were giving themselves a crash course in roofing.

"Looks like we're going to start a new business," McCord quipped as he and Jenkins gathered bits of scrap wood from neighboring businesses to nail down the temporary cover.

They figure they lost 80 percent of their inventory.

Down the street, Chad Maxwell shoveled up shattered glass at the real estate office where he works. Maxwell is worried that, as in Homestead in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, speculators will swoop in looking to buy up land cheap.

That's why he is so anxious to get his office up and running -- so he can work on helping the people he manages property for to stick around.

"We have a great community," he said. "Six months from now, it won't look like this. ... It's the near future that's tough."

Campanella was at a bike convention in Wisconsin when the Charley hit. His employees came in right after the storm and chained his 250 bicycles and scooters together to prevent looting.

Now he's sleeping in his van in the parking lot to keep an eye on things until he can find his insurance papers and see what's covered.

"It's my life," said Campanella, who has spent seven years building up the business. "It's everything I own."