By ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press Writer
Many Floridians began another day of struggling to find food, water
and fuel after Hurricane Wilma on Thursday, with lines of people and
cars forming around home improvement stores and gas stations.
About 2 million homes and businesses were still without power and
phones, which was making the recovery more difficult. Many gas
stations that had fuel were without electricity to pump it out, and
others that had power ran out of supplies. Shouting matches broke out
at some stations when people tried cutting in line.
"Get gas down here. This is craziness," Connie Rodriguez, 23, said
Thursday while she and her fiance tried getting gas at two stations
across the street from each other.
But progress was being made: Port Everglades had power back for most
of its fuel depot, which supplies stations across South Florida. About
700 trucks will be picking up gas there to deliver to stations
Thursday, down from the normal 1,000, said Carlos Buqueras, director
of business development at the Fort Lauderdale-area port.
A day earlier, Gov. Jeb Bush took responsibility for frustrating
relief delays in a state all too familiar with powerful storms.
"We did not perform to where we want to be," the governor said at a
news conference in Tallahassee, adding that criticism of the federal
response was misdirected. "This is our responsibility."
Bush's comments came amid finger-pointing by local and county
officials upset with aid efforts, and criticism of the Federal
Emergency Management Agency reminiscent of the anger unleashed
following Hurricane Katrina.
"This is like the Third World," said Claudia Shaw, who spent several
hours in a gas line. "We live in a state where we suffer from these
storms every year. Where is the planning?"
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez called the relief distribution system
"flawed." Nine of the 11 sites in his county ran out of supplies,
according to its Web site.
But at another South Florida distribution site, ice sat melting
Wednesday night, with officials issuing a plea on television stations:
Come get the ice before it goes to waste.
Wilma killed at least 27 people in its charge across the Caribbean,
Mexico and Florida. Florida's official death toll doubled from five to
10 Wednesday, and the storm also killed at least 12 people in Haiti,
four in Mexico and one in Jamaica.
In Mexico, weary tourists camped out at the airport in hopes of
grabbing a precious seat on flights Thursday leaving hurricane-ravaged
Cancun. Thousands of tourists remained stranded along Mexico's
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who oversees FEMA,
asked Floridians to have patience as he surveyed crumpled boats,
shattered mobile homes and snaking lines of cars at fuel stations
along the storm's path.
Chertoff promised to deploy cargo planes overnight to gather water and
ice from across the country for delivery by Thursday. He also said the
government was working to find more power generators to send to south
Florida, and called on oil companies to help distributors get fuel out
of the ground and into gas tanks.
"I have to say, in honesty, patience will be required for everybody,"
Chertoff told The Associated Press during his flight to Florida. "Under
he best circumstances, even in the best planning, you still confront
the physical reality of a destructive storm."
President Bush planned to arrive in Florida on Thursday to get his
first look at the damage wrought by Wilma and to visit the National
Hurricane Center in Miami.
More than 2,900 people remained housed in 25 shelters spread over 11
The state's largest utility, Florida Power & Light, had restored power
by Thursday to about 36 percent of the 6 million people who had lost
it. Officials warned, however, that the full restoration process
could last through Nov. 22 in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
"All we can do is be patient and tell them an estimated time because
we don't know what we might find down the line," utility foreman Heath
Lowery said in Coral Gables. "We don't come out here and just turn a
switch on and the lights come back. Phones are th same way."
Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs told CBS' "The Early Show" on
Thursday that a boil-water order should be lifted soon, but the
extended time the county is expected to be without power was
The record-breaking storm season wasn't over. Tropical Storm Beta
formed early Thursday in the southwestern Caribbean Sea, becoming the
season's 23rd tropical storm, the most since record keeping began in
1851. It was expected to threaten Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua,
but not the United States.
In Florida, the Upper and Middle Keys announced plans to accommodate
tourists again beginning Friday; the Lower Keys, including Key West,
expected to have tourists return starting Monday.
In the meantime, storm-savvy Floridians resorted to their ingenuity.
At one Wal-Mart, 30 people sat on the sidewalk while they used the
store's outside electrical outlets to recharge their cell phones. At
one gas station, a man went car-to-car selling fuel from a 10-gallon
plastic tank. The price was $20 for about a gallon, and people
"It's not a matter of we lack fuel, we just can't get it out of the
ground because we lack power," said Miami-Dade County Commissioner
Carlos Gimenez. "Grocery stores are closed because we don't have
power. The longer we go without power, the worse the situation gets."
On the Net:
National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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