Castor: Bipartisan Aid for Hurricane-Battered Florida

The nation's leaders need to put aside partisan labels to help Florida recover from the devastation of three major hurricanes during the past month, Democratic Senate candidate Betty Castor (search) said Saturday.

In her party's weekly radio address, Castor said Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan "have cut a terrible swath of destruction," destroying homes and damaging military bases and the state's agricultural industry.

"At times like these, we are not Republicans or Democrats. We are all Americans," Castor said. "The worst of Mother Nature brings out the best in human nature."

Castor, a former state education commissioner, defeated Rep. Peter Deutsch (search) to capture the party's nomination in the Aug. 31 primary. She faces Republican Mel Martinez (search), a former U.S. housing and urban development secretary, for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Bob Graham (search).

The race has been overshadowed as the state recovers from the hurricanes. Frances was a slow-moving storm that covered much of the peninsula after it struck the state's central Atlantic coast Sept. 5, while Charley was a faster, stronger, more compact storm when it blasted into the state's southwest coast Aug. 13.

Ivan damaged hundreds of buildings in the Florida Panhandle with 130-mph winds, flooding and tornadoes when it struck before dawn Thursday.

Early estimates put Ivan's insured damages at $3 billion to $10 billion — adding to estimated damages of about $11 billion to $13 billion for Hurricanes Charley and Frances. Overall, at least 65 people have been killed in the three storms or during the cleanup.

Castor said the state was "thankful for the disaster aid approved under the leadership of President Bush, Senator Tom Daschle (the Senate Democratic leader) and our wonderful Florida senators, Bill Nelson and Bob Graham." She urged Congress to approve a $700 million appropriation to help Florida's farmers recover from major losses to the citrus industry.

"These are not political problems, they're human problems. Their solutions should not be held hostage to political imperatives," Castor said. "If there's one lesson to be taken away from our response to these terrible hurricanes, it is this: There is nothing we Americans cannot achieve when we put our differences aside and work together."