Published January 14, 2015
Traffic from returning evacuees has subsided, long lines for gas have shortened and billions of dollars in federal aid will soon flow for afflicted Florida residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Frances (search).
But as President Bush toured the damage along Florida's Atlantic coast on Wednesday, many residents said it will take months to ease the anxieties of rebuilding their homes and their lives.
"Look at this," said Gloria Serrano, who toured her mother-in-law's damaged West Palm Beach mobile home. "There's no water, there's no electricity, there's sewage on the ground and there are trees on my mother-in-law's roof. I'm very worried."
Promising relief to a state hammered by back-to-back hurricanes, Bush toured the area by helicopter, handed out bags of ice and bottled water in Fort Pierce and visited the National Hurricane Center (search) in Miami.
Bush signed a $2 billion disaster relief package for victims of both Frances and Charley, which struck southwest Florida on Aug. 13 and caused an estimated $6.8 billion in damage and 27 deaths.
The president, who was joined by his brother Gov. Jeb Bush (search), said he would seek additional funds to rebuild infrastructure and provide disaster loan assistance to businesses and homeowners.
"We're working as hard as we can to get them the supplies they need. That's what we're here for," President Bush said.
State officials said about 1.4 million homes and businesses were without power Wednesday. It could be early next week before power is restored statewide.
Residents continue to piece together the remains of their homes. At a Wal-Mart Super Center in West Palm Beach, a full parking lot was a sign of the bustling activity inside, where people bought large plastic trash bags, wet and dry vacuums and large plastic storage bins.
Paula and Cliff Matthews of Riviera Beach were buying bins to hold the few personal items and any important papers they could salvage. With three children, the couple has contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency (search) and the Red Cross for housing.
"We have to move. The ceiling fell in, there is water in all the light fixtures and it just isn't safe," said Paula Matthews.
Frances left an estimated at $2 billion to $4 billion in insured damage and left at least 15 dead in the state.
The storm struck a wide stretch of Florida's east coast early Sunday with winds of 105 mph and more than 13 inches of rain, peeling off roofs and flooding streets. It then moved across the state, into the Gulf of Mexico and hit northwest Florida as a strong, wet tropical storm before moving into Georgia and northward into the eastern United States.
The emergency money approved by the president would provide direct aid for families, debris removal, repairs and emergency food and shelter. Gov. Bush said the state and federal governments are sending a "massive amount of support," but added that "it's a logistical challenge that people have to keep in perspective. It isn't going to be done overnight."
Palm Beach County Commissioner Warren Newell said "we need more of everything" at the county's emergency distribution centers, where thousands of people have come for ice and water. He also said there was a problem with getting enough trucks in because of fuel shortages.
As the recovery continues, Florida residents are monitoring Hurricane Ivan (search), which has already done severe damage on the island nation of Grenada. Its wind strengthened early Thursday to 160 mph, making it a Category 5 hurricane, and a forecast track has it turning northward toward Florida early next week.
"I'm sad and kind of numb," said Helen Gerro of Punta Gorda, hard hit by Hurricane Charley. "We're exhausted; everyone's exhausted. There just can't be another one. That would be devastating."