MIAMI — Many Floridians endured another day of scrounging for food and fuel, their patience tested by long lines. President Bush, meanwhile, toured the area and predicted that “their life will get back to normal.”
Millions of homes and businesses were still without power, which was making the recovery more difficult. Many gas stations that had fuel were without electricity, and others that had power ran out of supplies.
Wilma killed at least 31 people in its charge across the Caribbean, Mexico and Florida. Florida's official death toll rose Thursday from 10 to 14.
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.
President Bush — who had arrived earlier in the day to get his first look at the damage wrought by Wilma and to visit the National Hurricane Center in Miami — predicted a robust response to the storm, saying that “things don't happen instantly, but they are happening.”
Grinning and greeting relief volunteers in Pompano Beach, Bush said: “People are getting fed. Soon more and more houses will have their electricity. Their life will get back to normal," he said.
Bush held a closed-door meeting with local officials and also got a tour of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield showed Bush data on Tropical Storm Beta, the 23rd named storm of 2005. Staff at the center expect it to grow to hurricane strength as it moves over the Caribbean Sea, continuing the year’s record-setting hurricane season.
Gov. Bush accepted blame
A day earlier, his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, took responsibility for the relief delays as local and county officials pointed accusatory fingers at each other and criticism was again directed at the Federal Emergency Management. “We did not perform to where we want to be,” the governor said.
On Thursday, he called on Floridians to be patient as more aid was on the way.
“While we have a historic amount of product coming to these places, it’s not enough, so we’re going to have a couple of days before we get to the point where our supply will meet the demand,” he said.
In Florida, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who oversees FEMA, asked weary residents to be patient, saying that he had ordered aid efforts stepped up. Military jets were overnighting hundreds of truckloads of supplies
“I have to say, in honesty, patience will be required for everybody,” Chertoff told The Associated Press during his flight to Florida. “Under the best circumstances, even in the best planning, you still confront the physical reality of a destructive storm.”
But many were simply fed up with such calls for patience.
“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 County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who had earlier described the relief distribution system as “flawed,” said the state's largest utility, Florida Power & Light, had re-prioritized its efforts to restore electricity to gas stations and grocery stores quickly to better break the bottlenecks in distributing needed supplies.
Restocking empty distribution sites
Nine of the 11 water and ice distribution sites in Miami-Dade ran out of supplies Wednesday, but 10 were restocked Thursday, he said. Broward County had 17 sites open Thursday. Thousands of exasperated people have waited in lines for hours this week to get basic supplies.
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 Caribbean coast.
More than 2,900 people remained housed in 25 shelters spread over 11 counties.
By Thursday, Florida Power & Light, had restored power to about 33 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.
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.
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