(Aug. 16) Florida agricultural officials were attempting to assess the damage of Hurricane Charley to the state’s citrus and vegetable industries Monday after the killer storm’s landfall Aug. 13.

According to early reports, the state’s citrus industry was heavily affected as the storm with winds as high as 145 mph moved on a northeast course across the state from Fort Myers to Daytona Beach.

The track took Charley across citrus-producing regions in Hardee, DeSoto and Polk counties where trees with young fruit were hit hard by the devastating winds. The three counties — along with Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties on the southwest coast — account for about 35% of the state’s 800,000 acres of citrus groves.

Polk County is heavier toward grapefruit production, while Hardee and DeSoto counties lean more toward juice oranges.

According to Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s largest grower organization, preliminary indications are that some trees were uprooted and small, unripe fruit was blown off others.

“Since communication lines are down in these areas, it’s difficult for us to adequately gauge the loss and economic impact this storm will have on Florida citrus growers,” said Andy LaVigne, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual. “We hope to have a better understanding within the next week.”

Dundee Citrus Growers Association, Dundee, sustained heavy damage to its packing facility. The roof was partially blown off a staging area, and the belts of a conveyor system were shredded. Citrus harvest does not begin in that area until October.

Charles Stewart, a Haines City citrus grower, told the Lakeland Ledger there was heavy fruit drop and wind damage in his family’s groves but estimated the damage would affect only a small part of the growing region.

The Category 4 storm, which was initially forecast to make landfall in the Tampa Bay area, was the worst hurricane to hit Florida in 12 years. After moving north across Cuba a day earlier, it came ashore across Captiva Island in highly-populated Lee County and moved northeasterly into Charlotte Harbor on a collision course with Punta Gorda, a city of approximately 15,000 just north of Fort Myers.

From there Charley moved across Arcadia, east of Wauchula and Fort Meade and into Lake Wales. It crossed U.S. 27 southwest of Haines City and continued its northeasterly track toward Orlando and Daytona Beach. It was downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved up the Eastern Seaboard.

The storm knocked out power to about 2 million homes and businesses across the state, and about 1.3 million remained without power Aug. 15.

At last report, the death toll was 16.

Charley gutted oceanfront homes on Sanibel Island and Captiva Island, which were evacuated a day earlier, before hammering more than 30 mobile home parks in Charlotte County, according to Bob Carpenter, a spokesman for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office. Carpenter said three hospitals in the county were damaged, which forced the evacuation of several patients to other hospitals along the west coast of the state.

An early estimate of the statewide damage was “several billion dollars,” said Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute.

Twenty-six deaths were attributed to Hurricane Andrew, which struck Homestead in 1992 and caused $19.9 billion in property losses.