October 29, 2005 in Nation/World

Florida assesses Wilma damage

Wanda J. DeMarzo and Martin Merzer Knight Ridder

MIAMI – More gasoline streamed into fuel tanks in South Florida and more lights flickered back to life Friday, but life remained a struggle for tens of thousands of people hit hard by Hurricane Wilma.

“We can’t take it anymore, knowing you have to go through this every day …,” said Sherily Louiston, 25, of Fort Lauderdale. “It’s stressful.”

An aerial survey found that Wilma damaged 70 percent of the homes and businesses through much of Broward County, the area that includes Fort Lauderdale and endured the worst blow.

Many people won’t see insurance adjusters, roofers or utility repair crews for weeks. Schools will remain closed Monday.

More than a million customers – 631,500 in Broward and 474,400 in Miami-Dade – were still without power Friday, Florida Power & Light officials said.

Only about one-third of the estimated 2,800 gasoline stations in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties were open Friday, state officials said. Lines at some stations stretched miles.

In the Doral area west of Miami, waitresses from an International House of Pancakes hit the streets and took breakfast orders from harried drivers idling in a line stretching from a Mobil station.

Some South Floridians acknowledged that they hadn’t prepared for Wilma’s arrival Monday. Regret was the order of the day.

“Everything is my mistake,” James Brown of Fort Lauderdale said as he held empty gasoline containers at the end of a long line in the nearby city of Plantation. “I should have done everything on Sunday. I should have gotten gas, (barbecue) coal, lights, a flashlight. I can only blame myself.”

Miami-Dade officials said all roads had been cleared of debris. “It’s a monumental task,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said. “But things are returning to normal.”

Things were more difficult in Broward, to the north.

A helicopter survey by the insurance industry found that Wilma inflicted its worst damage in the west Broward communities of Margate, Coconut Creek, North Lauderdale, Sunrise, Plantation and Davie. At least 70 percent of the homes and businesses in those cities sustained some damage, according to the Insurance Disaster Assessment Team.

Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon and other tourist areas in the Upper and Middle Keys reopened to visitors. Key West and the rest of the Lower Keys will reopen to tourists Monday, officials said.

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