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FL wary of new storm

Two weeks after Hurricane Charley's landfall, an elderly woman was sitting in her house, just staring.

BY SUSAN KIM | CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. | August 30, 2004

"Many children went back to school today, and many are getting adjusted to relocated schools."

—Tania Garcia

Two weeks after Hurricane Charley's landfall, an elderly woman was sitting in her house, just staring. "Part of her roof was wide open. There were trees down all over her yard. And she wouldn't answer the door because she was afraid of looters," said Ray Hayes of the Charlotte County Council on Aging. "She had no family, and she had no friends to check on her. We had to go in through a window to help her."

Unfortunately this scenario is repeating itself, said Hayes, who is still trying to locate some of his clients. "I'm afraid some of these elderly people who have been confined to their homes will get heat illnesses, or have mental breakdowns," he worried. "I know churches and other groups have been really helping elderly people, but many of them can't get out. Their vehicles were destroyed or they can't drive."

"People have to get out into their neighborhoods and check on them," he said.

Speculations that Hurricane Frances could hit the U.S. next weekend anywhere from Florida to the Carolinas are adding to the anxiety of elderly people - and everyone else.

The small islands of the northern Caribbean were on alert on Monday as powerful Hurricane Frances loomed. Frances was expected to move north of the Caribbean islands in the next two days. The National Hurricane Center's long-range forecast, which has a large margin of error, had the storm on a track that would take it near the Bahamas by Thursday and off Florida's east coast by Saturday.

Children may be especially vulnerable to feeling anxious right now, pointed out Tania Garcia, a licensed clinical social worker who is director of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Charlotte County. "Many children went back to school today, and many are getting adjusted to relocated schools."

Seven schools in Charlotte County were so damaged they are unusable. So the school district, which encompasses 21 schools and some 20,000 students, switched to double schedules. That means some students will spend only 20 minutes in the cafeteria for lunch.

Some children might show the stress immediately but others might not show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder for 30 to 90 days, she said. "Then they might start experiencing nightmares, short tempers, vivid dreams, or flashbacks."

Trained volunteers from the Church of the Brethren's Disaster Child Care program are working in Florida, helping to care for children while their parents cope with disaster-related paperwork and cleanup.

With trauma from Hurricane Charley still fresh - and Frances churning closer - it's hard for responders in Florida to split their time between current response and potential preparation for a new hurricane.

Response is moving painfully from an emergency phase into short-term recovery, all while responders are trying to form long-range plans. It's hard to throw a new storm into the mix.

"But Frances has been the topic of a lot of conversation," said Tom Davis, a Church World Service Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison. "It is very much on the minds of everyone here."

Well, not everyone. "I haven't even put much thought into Frances," admitted Hayes.

"We don't have time to watch those reports very much," agreed Norma Ashlin of Adventist Community Services.

The National Hurricane Center urged residents in the eastern U.S. from Florida to North Carolina to closely monitor the storm.

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