- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

WESTON, Fla. (AP) — Floridians lined up for water, gas, ice and generators yesterday outside the few stores that were open after Hurricane Wilma cut a costly, deadly swath across the peninsula.

The storm slammed across the state in about seven hours Monday, causing billions of dollars in insured damage and leaving 5.9 million people, or nearly 3 million homes and businesses, without electricity. More than 5,000 residents remained in shelters as the hurricane’s remnants headed toward the North Atlantic.

Wilma was blamed for at least five deaths in Florida, down one from initial reports.

“It will be days or weeks before we are back to normal,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said.

Before smashing into Florida, Wilma killed at least six persons in Mexico, one person in Jamaica and 12 persons in Haiti.

The storm devastated resort towns along Mexico’s Caribbean coast, severely flooding the tourist hot spot Cancun, where looters ransacked entire blocks of stores. Thousands of tourists remained stranded along the resort-studded Yucatan coast yesterday.

In Cuba, the storm flooded Havana’s streets and ripped off chunks of the famous Malecon sea wall.

In Florida, most stores remained closed because of the widespread power outages, creating long lines at those that were open. More than 500 people lined up outside a Broward County Super Wal-Mart, which was letting in about 20 people at a time.

The first person in line, Joyce Carr, had been waiting several hours in hopes of buying a generator, only to learn the store was out. She still wanted to buy a grill, charcoal and water.

“We’ve heard different reports that the power will be out for some time, so we’re worried about supplies for our family,” Mrs. Carr said.

The few gas stations that had power had lines that stretched for blocks. One gas station manager in Florida City got into shouting matches with people who tried to cut lines, forcing police to shut down the station.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush thanked emergency workers for their efforts.

“My heart goes out to people that have lost a lot and they can rest assured that the state government and the federal government will be working to provide support,” he said.

His brother, President Bush, signed a disaster declaration Monday and promised swift help. He plans to travel to Florida tomorrow.

Miami-Dade and Broward authorities reported few problems despite the loss of power. Fourteen persons were arrested for violating a curfew in Miami-Dade, where fewer than 10 looting arrests were made. Broward had six reports of looting, with one arrest.

Wilma, the eighth hurricane to strike or pass by Florida in 15 months, landed on Florida’s Gulf coast as a Category 3 hurricane, littering the landscape with power lines, wrecked signs, torn awnings and other debris. It weakened as it moved out into the Atlantic, but was contributing moisture to a nor’easter that was blowing through the Northeast, causing widespread power outages and hammering New Jersey beaches with 20-foot waves.

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