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CORRECTED: Long lines plague Wilma-ravaged Florida

October 26, 2005

Corrects sentence in paragraph 11 to read ” …The remnants
of Wilma faded over the Atlantic Ocean after lashing the U.S.
northeast on Tuesday… ” instead of “…Wilma was still a
hurricane…”

By Jim Loney

MIAMI (Reuters) – Floridians lined up for gas, water, ice
and money on Wednesday, and power crews worked to restore
electricity to 5.5 million people as the state’s most-populous
region slowly recovered from Hurricane Wilma.

Lights reappeared in many of the office towers in downtown
Miami and the city recalled employees to work, despite having
no power at City Hall. But for many of the 5 million people in
the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan area,
life was still a tedious wait for basics.

Trucks convoys moved through the stricken region, carrying
workers who righted power poles, hacked up fallen trees and
replaced downed lines.

Wilma killed five people in Florida on Monday and one in
the Bahamas after a damaging trek through the Caribbean, where
17 people died in Haiti and Mexico.

Risk analysts have estimated Wilma’s damage in Florida at
up to $10 billion, which would rank it among the top-10
most-expensive storms to hit the United States.

A line stretching for hundreds of yards formed at a
downtown Miami service station that had gas on Tuesday but was
closed on Wednesday.

Similar lines formed at a handful of gas stations, ATMs,
grocery stores and shops that showed any signs of opening.
Federal relief agencies distributed ice and water at centers
throughout the region.

South Florida had plenty of fuel, but little electricity to
pump it from the ground.

Florida Power & Light, the local power company, said it
could take three weeks or more to restore power to everyone.

“We have 2.7 million customers without power this morning,”
a company spokeswoman said. One customer is usually considered
to represent two people.

The remnants of Wilma faded over the Atlantic Ocean after
lashing the U.S. northeast on Tuesday.

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

This year was also marked by the most intense Atlantic
storms ever recorded, including Hurricane Katrina, which in
August burst the levees protecting New Orleans and flooded the
city. Katrina caused more than $30 billion in damage, probably
the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Two days after Wilma struck, south Florida was slowly
putting itself back together. Miami International and Palm
Beach International airports were open and garbage trucks moved
through the streets picking up trash and storm debris,

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was closed
to major commercial traffic, but some small planes were
landing, a spokeswoman said. Most local governments and courts
were still closed.

Residents and engineers wondered at the damage Wilma’s
100-mph (160-kph) winds did to windows in some of south
Florida’s glass towers — even those built after building codes
were strengthened after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

A school board headquarters in Fort Lauderdale and hotels
and banks in Miami’s Brickell banking district were among the
buildings whose windows were extensively damaged and showered
glass on surrounding streets.

Herb Saffir, a Coral Gables structural engineer who helped
develop the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity, told
The Miami Herald he was “dumbfounded” by the window damage.

“Even if it had been the pre-Andrew code, I think those
windows should have stayed in place,” Saffir told the
newspaper.

(Additional reporting by Michael Peltier in Tallahassee,
Laura Myers in Key West, Michael Christie and Jane Sutton in
Miami and John Marquis in the Bahamas)




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