[Hpn] Thieves plunder in Charley's aftermath

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Tue, 17 Aug 2004 09:43:05 -0400

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Thieves plunder in Charley's aftermath
Published August 16, 2004


PUNTA GORDA - After the hurricane ended, the looting began. 
Among the first targets, officials said, was the Charlotte Harbor Fire Department. Firefighters arrived early Saturday to find that their computers had been swiped in the night.

Charlotte County Sheriff's Office spokesman Robert Carpenter said his office is getting regular reports of looting from residents of the area's many storm-wrecked neighborhoods. Carpenter said his officers are responding when able, but that they are saddled with more pressing demands, such as caring for survivors.

"No question about it," he said. "We are behind on these types of calls."

The fear of looting is so widespread, many residents are staying in their damaged homes to protect their valuables. Emergency shelters have far fewer people than officials had expected given the extensive damage in Charlotte County.

With computers at the county jail not operating, Carpenter said he did not know how many arrests had been made. At the jail, sheriff's Capt. Tony Penland said four people had been taken into custody for suspected looting, but he did not know the specific charges against them.

In areas hit by Hurricane Charley here, a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. was in effect Sunday night to combat theft.

Carpenter said 50 to 60 of his officers would patrol the streets, aided by 1,500 National Guard troops sent to the area, as well as personnel from other agencies.

Over the weekend, 25 Remington rifle-toting Pinellas County sheriff's deputies were patrolling the streets of Port Charlotte, protecting the many businesses whose walls and roofs were gone and whose merchandise was exposed to view.

Many mobile home communities in Port Charlotte along the Peace River have been devastated. With walls and more blown away - and since many of the inhabitants are snowbirds summering up north - the homes make easy targets.

At the Harborview Park mobile home community, 45-year-old Peter Fernandes returned to his mother's damaged home early Sunday. It appeared to him as if the door had been jimmied.

"Sons of b------," Fernandes said. "They have no respect for people, even in times like these."

Down the road in the park sat Vietnam veteran Gary Snyder, drinking Miller High Life. Snyder, who was among only a handful in Harborview who rode out the storm, said residents were anxious about looters, but he was prepared.

"If I see 'em, I'll shoot 'em," he said. "They're gone. I'll tell 'em I had a flashback."

In nearby Palmetto Mobile Home Park, Susann Rivera, 76, was cleaning up the damage to her home. On Saturday, Rivera said, she had moved her valuables to her daughter's house in Cape Coral, where she is now staying.

What's left, she says, has no sentimental value, but she would prefer not to have her home violated once by Mother Nature and a second time by thieves.

"I'm hoping nobody is selfish enough to come in and loot," Rivera said. 

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