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Published: Friday, 8/13/2004

Charley hits land with 145-mph winds

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. - A stronger-than-expected Hurricane Charley roared ashore today as a dangerous Category 4 storm, slamming the heavily populated Gulf Coast with devastating storm surges and 145 mph wind that snapped trees in half, ripped roofs off buildings and blacked out hundreds of thousands of people.

Airports and theme parks hurriedly closed before the storm arrived, the Kennedy Space Center sent workers home early, and storm shelters quickly filled up as nearly 2 million people were told to flee ahead of the strongest storm to hit Florida in a decade.

Gov. Jeb Bush said damage could exceed $15 billion, but cautioned that it was a preliminary estimate as the storm headed across the center of Florida toward the Orlando area. His brother, President Bush, declared the storm-battered region a federal disaster area.

"This is the nightmare scenario that we've been talking about for years," hurricane center director Max Mayfield said of storm surges that ranged from 10 to 15 feet.

Charley's eye reached land at 3:45 p.m. when it passed over the barrier islands between Fort Myers and Punta Gorda, some 70 miles southeast of the Tampa Bay area. It struck the mainland 30 minutes later.

See tomorrow's The Blade and toledoblade.com for more details and photos.

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