Hurricane help is on the way

By Ed Brock

As Hurricane Charley stormed ashore on the far-off coast of Florida, help for the victims of the storm was pouring out of Clayton County.

The storm played a trick on the people of Florida, strengthening into a Category 4 storm before crashing ashore near Port Charlotte on Friday. It pounded populous west-central Florida with 145 mph wind and a surge of water expected to exceed 10 feet.

Gov. Jeb Bush said damage could exceed $15 billion.

Almost 2 million people were urged to evacuate in advance of the storm, which rapidly gained strength in the Gulf of Mexico after swinging around the Florida Keys as a more moderate Category 2 storm Friday morning.

Charley reached landfall at 3:45 p.m., when the eye passed over the barrier islands between Fort Myers and Punta Gorda, some 110 miles southeast of the Tampa Bay area that includes Tampa and St. Petersburg.

"We are ground zero for Hurricane Charley," said Wayne Sallade, director of emergency management in Charlotte County.

The hurricane struck the mainland 30 minutes later. Forecasters feared a potentially devastating storm surge of up to 20 feet that could submerge miles of coastline.

"The sky's the limit as far as what can happen with this storm," said Red Cross spokesman William Reynolds.

At the Red Cross Disaster Field Supply Center at Army Garrison Fort Gillem in Forest Park, truckloads of aid items were being shipped to staging areas in Orlando, Gainesville and Tallahassee. The average truckload contained around 800 "Disaster Cleanup Kits" and 2,880 "Disaster Comfort Kits," said Carl Rutherford of Conley, manager of the DFSC.

The Cleanup Kits include bottles of cleaning solutions, a bucket, heavy duty trash bags and a broom, mop and squeegee that share a common handle.

"Basically everything somebody needs to clean up their homes after it's had wind and water damage," Reynolds said.

The comfort kits include toilet items such as a toothbrush, razors and shaving cream, combs, shampoos and deodorant. They are tailored to suit male or female needs as well as different ethnic needs.

Though many people who want to help at times like this may feel a desire to donate items such as old clothes and canned food, Reynolds said it's much better to make a cash donation to the Red Cross. Those donations pay for the cleanup and comfort kits that ensure that everybody gets the same quality of aid.

To make a donation call 1-800-HELP NOW or go to www.redcrossatlanta.org.

Also, in Atlanta on Thursday the Federal Emergency Management Agency activated its Regional Operation Center. The ROC serves as the main coordination point for all federal, state and local governments that are responding to the storm.

And Friday the Georgia Emergency Management Agency issued warnings to travelers to avoid traveling on Interstate 75 toward and in Florida. The warnings were directed primarily toward commercial truckers and drivers of recreational vehicles.

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport several airlines, including Delta and AirTran, canceled flights to and from Florida.

For Delta, flights to Tampa, Ft. Myers and Sarasota are expected to resume by 10 a.m. Saturday if the infrastructure at the airports there is secure. Flights to Key West would resume after an evaluation of the infrastructure there.

Friday night Delta flights to Orlando, Melbourne, Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Savannah and Charleston were also cancelled but are expected to be restored during the day Saturday. Flights to Miami, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale were expected to experience weather related delays.

AirTran canceled its flights to Fort Myers and Tampa as well on Friday and advised that further cancellations could be announced. Both airlines advised their passengers to call ahead to see if their reserved flights were leaving or arriving on time.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.