- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Authorities raised Florida’s death toll from Hurricane Wilma from five to 10 yesterday and urged survivors to have patience as they endured long waits for food, water and other necessities.

Gov. Jeb Bush took responsibility yesterday for frustrating delays at centers distributing supplies to storm victims, but he also said people who have waited in line for hours seeking relief should have done more to prepare for the storm.

“People had ample time to prepare. It isn’t that hard to get 72 hours worth of food and water,” said Mr. Bush, repeating the advice that officials had given days before Wilma blasted across southern Florida early Monday.

The 21st storm in the busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record, Wilma killed at least 12 persons in Haiti, four in Mexico and one in Jamaica before hitting Florida. State emergency management director Craig Fugate said yesterday that Florida’s death toll was 10, up from the five deaths previously reported.

Mr. Bush spoke at a joint press conference with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA, roundly criticized for its response to Hurricane Katrina, was again a focus of frustration yesterday as Floridians faced long waits for supplies that the mayor of Miami-Dade County warned were running out.

Mr. Bush accepted responsibility for not having distribution centers running smoothly within 24 hours and promised to try to speed up distribution. His brother, President Bush, planned to visit today.

There were signs of progress yesterday in Florida: More streets were cleared of debris, a few restaurants opened, and domestic flights resumed at Miami International Airport. Even trash removal returned to some areas.

Getting needed goods, however, often was far from easy. Hundreds of people lined up outside one home-supply store, desperate for cleanup and other supplies. At a handful of fast-food restaurants open in the Miami area, burgers were available — to those willing to endure two-hour waits.

The quantity of debris is daunting — pieces of roofs, trees, signs, awnings, fences, billboards and pool screens were scattered across several counties, including the state’s most populous region — the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach area. Damage estimates ranged up to $10 billion.

Wilma was the strongest hurricane to strike Fort Lauderdale since 1950. Wind of more than 100 mph blew windows out of high-rises, many built before Florida enacted tougher construction codes after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

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