PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – Rubble from Hurricane Charley (search) is still piled along the streets. Plywood still covers many blown-out windows, and blue tarps still cover holes torn in the roofs.
Not yet a month removed from the devastation of Charley, residents of this southwest Florida community collectively shuddered Wednesday when forecasts put Hurricane Ivan (search) near them, perhaps at their front door, in less then a week.
They could be spared, of course, given the hard-to-predict nature of hurricanes, but weary residents of Punta Gorda (search) and Port Charlotte were forced to start thinking about Ivan, after getting another battering round of wind and rain from Hurricane Frances earlier this week.
"It takes its toll on everybody," said Linda Martin, 41, who was washing clothes at a downtown coin-operated laundry whose busted front window was still covered with plywood. "You can see it in their faces. Some people lost everything. It's hard on the businesses, it's hard on the community. But we're fighters."
Martin's mobile home was beat up by Charley, but she and some neighbors rode out the storm in a concrete-reinforced bunker that the previous owner had built. She said they have food and bottled water, so they're ready if Ivan comes calling.
"Everybody used to say 'Where the heck is Punta Gorda?' " Martin said. "Now we say we're from Punta Gorda, and they say, 'Oh, I'm sorry.'"
Kevin Doyle, who owns The Celtic Pride Public House, proudly notes that he kept the damaged bar running after Charley, even without electricity. But a bar he opened next door was all but destroyed, and then Frances came along and flooded the buildings.
"I don't know whether I'm resigned to it or I don't care about it," the 50-year-old Dublin, Ireland, native said of the prospect of taking another hit. "We'll take it as it comes. There's nothing we can do so we'll just wait it out."
A lunchtime crowd filled the pub Wednesday, but Doyle said he hadn't heard much Ivan chatter — yet.
"People are very apprehensive about talking about it now," he said.
Gov. Jeb Bush said the state is as ready as it can for another big storm.
Hurricane Charley, which hit Aug. 13, was blamed for 27 deaths in the state and caused an estimated $6.8 billion in insured damage. Frances followed Sunday, causing an estimated $2 billion to $4 billion in damage and killing 13 people in Florida.
"We're paying the price for living in paradise," Bush said. "We're going to get through this."
Helen Gerro and her husband, Greg Clark, moved to Punta Gorda from Minneapolis two years ago and opened a shop downtown to sell women's fashions designed by Gerro. Their store, and their apartment above it, were battered by Charley. They lost stock and thousands in potential business. A blue tarp provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still covers a hole in the roof.
"I'm sad and kind of numb," the 48-year-old Gerro said, pondering the potential impact of Ivan. "We're exhausted, everyone's exhausted. There just can't be another one. That would be devastating."
Her husband said they would get ready and ride out another storm in their apartment, just as he did for Charley.
"So far, we're saying it's better than shoveling snow up north, but I don't know if I'll be saying that later," he said.
Timothy Pitts, 45, stopped to buy some "I Survived Hurricane Charley" T-shirts from a stand set up in a rubble-strewn parking lot on U.S. 41 in Port Charlotte. The offices of his well-drilling and irrigation business were destroyed by the hurricane and demand for his services has been scant since then. Fortunately, his house was spared, and he'll stay there if Ivan comes.
"It's Mother Nature. The only thing you can do is batten down the hatches and hold on," he said. "I'll ride out the storm. If it takes it all, I got a place in Tennessee."