Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.
Signs of economic slowdown emerged in a series of reports this week, though most analysts agree the deceleration won't deepen into something worse.
*The Consumer Price Index, a closely watched gauge of inflation, fell in July for the first time in eight months. The tiny decrease in CPI was fueled by a significant drop in gasoline prices. *Inflation fears also have calmed with the release of the Conference Board's Index of Leading Indicators, which fell in July for the second straight month.
*Despite the slowdown, rebounds in industrial production and housing starts offer hope the nation has escaped a so-called "soft patch" in economic activity.
The problems faced by many in the Deep South, meanwhile, go beyond pocketbook issues. From Florida to the Carolinas, thousands of people are trying to reconcile the damage caused by Hurricane Charley. Among those assessing the carnage are farmers who grow high-value crops like citrus and tobacco.
Seven Florida counties struck by hurricane Charley's 145 mile an hour winds contain 280,000 acres of citrus groves -- or about 35% of the state's total.
Those damaged crops usually provide more than a third of the fruit for the orange juice produced in the state. While assessments of the total damage to groves is still unknown, early guesses say the reduction in crop estimates could be as low as two million, 90-pound boxes or it could be over ten million boxes. Translated into dollars, the loss is estimated in the hundreds of millions.
Multi-million dollar crop losses were also felt in the Carolinas where the tobacco harvest was less than halfway complete when the storms barreled through, flattening fields.
Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security: "This can be, depending on your personal circumstances, the most devastating loss and most trying time you've ever encountered in your entire life."
The federal government is jumping in to offer federal assistance to many -- from providing 120 tons of USDA food commodities to serve 250,000 meals to hurricane victims ... to providing low-interest emergency loans to qualified farm operators. There is $2.5 (B) billion dollars in federal crop insurance in the affected counties.
Florida's orange crop is the second largest in the world behind Brazil's. Agriculture ranks second only to tourism in the amount of money it contributes to the state's economy. The farm sector constitutes about $7 (B) billion dollars in ag sales and the industry contributed about $62 (B) billion dollars to the state economy.