President George W Bush was today visiting hurricane-stricken Florida and Alabama – the third such visit to Florida – as Hurricane Ivan victims faced another day of digging through debris for their belongings and waiting hours in queues for food and water.
Bush planned a flight by Marine One helicopter over areas of Alabama’s Gulf Coast and Florida’s Panhandle hit hardest when Ivan tore ashore on Thursday with 130mph winds. The hurricane spawned deadly tornadoes and a huge storm surge that gutted homes and businesses, washed out roads and bridges and knocked out power.
Relief centres were open in Florida and Alabama, providing ice, water and meals to tired residents who want to return to their normal lives but instead face days, weeks or months of recovery.
After Ivan roared ashore along the Gulf Coast, it cut a path of destruction across the South and Northeast that left 46 people dead, 16 of them in Florida. Earlier, it was blamed for 70 deaths in the Caribbean.
Hundreds of urban search and rescue workers scoured demolished neighbourhoods, some using tracker dogs to look for victims in the rubble and along flooded river banks. In Escambia Bay, where a trucker was killed when a bridge collapsed, the Army Corps of Engineers was asked to use sonar to search for possible additional victims.
Twelve people were still missing in Escambia County and at least a dozen in Santa Rosa County, but it was unclear whether they were in danger or had simply evacuated without notifying relatives, said Sonya Smith, spokeswoman for the county emergency operations centre.
More than a million people were without power across 13 states, including more than 340,000 homes and businesses in Florida, state officials said.
There have been 72 reports of looting in Escambia County since Ivan passed, sheriff’s officials said. Deputies have arrested 15 suspects.
With Ivan the third hurricane to strike the state in a matter of weeks, Panhandle residents joined their neighbours to the south in learning to cope with the aftermath of disaster.
“I think the biggest problem that Florida is going to face is fatigue,” FEMA director Michael Brown said on Saturday. “When you think about these three hurricanes, the continuing rains and storms, and just the heat, people are going to get worn out."