- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

MIAMI (AP) — President Bush arrived in Miami to visit the National Hurricane Center and boarded a helicopter to get his first look at the damage wrought by Hurricane Wilma in Florida, where about 2 million homes and businesses were still without power.

“People are getting fed. Soon, more and more houses will have their electricity,” Mr. Bush said as he greeted relief volunteers in Pompano Beach. “Their life will get back to normal.”

Progress was being made. Port Everglades had power back for most of its fuel depot, which supplies stations across South Florida. About 700 trucks were to pick up gas there to deliver to stations yesterday, down from the normal 1,000, said Carlos Buqueras, director of business development at the Fort Lauderdale-area port.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said the state’s largest utility, Florida Power & Light, had reprioritized its efforts to restore electricity to gas stations and grocery stores quickly. His county has lent generators to some businesses to get them open, and he has asked for more from the federal government.

Nine of the 11 water and ice distribution sites in Miami-Dade ran out of supplies Wednesday, but 10 were restocked yesterday, he said. Broward County also had 17 sites open yesterday.

The criticism of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was reminiscent of the anger unleashed after Hurricane Katrina.

“This is like the Third World,” said Claudia Shaw, who spent several hours in line for gas. “We live in a state where we suffer from these storms every year. Where is the planning?”

More than 2,800 people remained housed in 25 shelters in 11 counties.

Florida’s official death toll rose Wednesday from 10 to 14, including five carbon-monoxide deaths. The storm also killed at least 12 persons in Haiti, four in Mexico and one in Jamaica.

In Mexico, weary tourists camped out at the airport yesterday in hopes of grabbing a precious seat on flights leaving hurricane-ravaged Cancun. Thousands of tourists remained stranded along Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who oversees FEMA, asked Floridians to have patience and promised to deploy cargo planes overnight to gather water and ice for delivery by yesterday.

“Under the best circumstances, even in the best planning, you still confront the physical reality of a destructive storm,” Mr. Chertoff told the Associated Press during his flight to Florida.

By yesterday, power had been restored 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.”

The record-breaking storm season wasn’t over. Tropical Storm Beta, the season’s 23rd tropical storm, formed in the Caribbean and was expected to threaten Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, but not the United States.

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