October 25, 2005

Hurricane-weary Florida cleans up

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - Residents armed with chain saws and
brooms and an army of electrical repair crews on Tuesday
attacked the shambles left behind by Hurricane Wilma's rampage
through Florida, where 6 million people were without power.

Wilma killed five people in Florida on Monday after a
devastating trek through the Caribbean that killed 17 in Haiti
and Mexico.

A powerful Category 3 storm with 125 mph (200 kph) winds
when it struck southwest Florida early on Monday, Wilma was the
eighth hurricane to hit the state in 15 months, an
unprecedented assault by nature that left Floridians reeling.

"Really, really tired of this. This is the third time I've
been without power (this year), first Katrina, then Rita, now
this," said Joe Fraghatti, 30, who spent an hour in a fruitless
search for gasoline. "I'm definitely thinking of moving west."

From Miami through Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach,
thousands waited in line for a free bag of ice and bottles of
water while police kept an eye on frustrated car drivers
queuing for hours at the handful of open gasoline stations.

Wilma's top winds had fallen to 105 mph (165 kph) as the
storm sped northeast over the Atlantic toward the Canadian
Maritimes, bringing wind and rain to the northeastern United

The 2005 Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season has been a
record-buster, with 22 tropical storms or hurricanes, besting
the past record of 21 set in 1933.

Hurricane Katrina, which burst the levees protecting New
Orleans in August and flooded the city, caused more than $30
billion in damage and likely became the costliest natural
disaster in U.S. history. Risk analysts estimated Wilma's
damage in Florida at up to $10 billion.


Jamil Dib swept debris from the sidewalk by the darkened
Clay Hotel on Miami Beach, which lost power after Katrina hit
and was again left powerless by Wilma.

"Next year we're going to get generators, stuff like that,
more gas equipment, because every year it's worse," Dib said.

Florida Power & Light, the state's major utility, said 2.98
million customers, or about 6 million people, were without
power on Tuesday after Wilma cut a swath across Florida from
Naples on the southwest coast to West Palm Beach on the east.

Flights were canceled in and out of the Miami, Fort
Lauderdale and West Palm Beach airports, a blow to the state's
$57 billion-a-year tourism industry.

Emergency officials said they were scrambling to find food
and tarps for storm victims. Hundreds of people waited at the
Orange Bowl stadium in Miami for water and ice, cheering wildly
when the first truck arrived, hours behind schedule.

North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns criticized county and state
decisions to set up 11 big distribution centers rather than
getting small municipalities to hand out supplies locally.

"You have thousands and thousands of people waiting in line
for hours," Burns told television station WSVN. "Here we are,
able bodies. ... Let us help."

The storm shattered windows in office towers, littered
streets with debris, sank boats and left the chronically
congested region with only a few working traffic lights.

Wilma swamped the low-lying Florida Keys, surprising the 90
percent of residents who ignored evacuation orders. The island
Key West was inundated with hip-high water, forcing officials
to postpone this week's annual Fantasy Fest, a Halloween
costume celebration that normally draws thousands of tourists.

"I'm trying to focus on getting the seaweed and furniture
out of my house," said Key West City Commissioner Danny
Kohlage, whose home was under 4 feet of water.

The storm also pounded Cuba, flooding Havana.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, which ends November 30,
has spawned three of the most intense Atlantic storms on
record: Katrina, which killed 1,200, Rita a few weeks later,
and Wilma, which at one point boasted the lowest barometric
pressure reading ever observed in the Atlantic basin.

(Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in Havana, Michael
Peltier in Tallahassee, Laura Myers in Key West, Jim Loney and
Michael Christie in Miami)