After Wilma, wait frustrates Floridians
Residents line up for supplies; U.S. death toll doubles to 10
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SUNNY ISLES BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- Utility crews worked Wednesday to restore electricity to 2.5 million customers, and hundreds of residents waited in long lines for supplies two days after Hurricane Wilma battered the southern third of Florida.
Florida Power & Light, the state's largest electricity supplier, said it had restored power to 689,000 customers as of Wednesday evening. The company said it hoped to restore power to a majority of its customers by November 8.
Also as of Wednesday, the death toll from Wilma in Florida had doubled -- to 10 people -- said a spokeswoman for the Florida Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. The hurricane also was blamed for four deaths in Mexico and at least seven in Haiti.
President Bush plans to visit Florida on Thursday to survey the damage, most of which occurred in the southeast part of the state.
Meanwhile, residents in several cities again formed long lines Wednesday to get basic necessities, such as gasoline, water, ice and food. In some sites, supplies ran out.
In Sunny Isles Beach, north of Miami Beach, 90 cars at one point waited in line for fuel at one gas station, while a separate line almost as long formed just a block away at another station.
Many of those in line still had about half a tank of gas but were determined to fill up in case of fuel shortages.
North of Fort Lauderdale, Oakland Park resident Marcia Jenkins said Wednesday she has tried in vain for two days to get ice.
"Yesterday we stood in line from 12 to about 4, and we didn't get any ice. I gave up and I left," Jenkins said. "So I figured I'd come today and I got to the end of the line and ... no more ice; they said 'wait 'til the next truck.' "
Near Hollywood, in Dania Beach, men unloaded crates of bottled water -- but no one was there to receive it.
In Naples, on Florida's southwest coast near where the storm made landfall, residents were angry when FEMA workers didn't show up to distribute water when they said they would.
"What are we supposed to do? We're supposed to count on FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency]. It's disgusting," resident Nilsa Colon said. (Watch residents express their anger -- 1:19)
Naples Mayor Bill Barnett added, "Don't commit if you can't deliver."
Bush backs FEMA
In Tallahassee, the state capital, Gov. Jeb Bush admitted there weren't enough supplies or points of distribution set up to handle the demand from the thousands who were affected by the storm.
Bush, the president's brother, said there were 71 distribution points as of Wednesday and that there would be 78 on Thursday.
As many as 586 trucks were ferrying supplies to the sites, and 3,700 National Guard members were helping to distribute materials and provide security.
The governor said he had expected the distribution points to be set up within 24 hours after the storm.
"We didn't meet those expectations," he said.
He urged residents to be patient and offered support for FEMA, which faced heavy criticism for its response to Hurricane Katrina in August.
"I'm not going to criticize anybody, and I'm not going to let anybody criticize FEMA for something we were supposed to do," Bush said.
Acting FEMA Director David Paulison, a south Floridian, vowed: "We're going to make sure everyone's taken care of."
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff visited south Florida Wednesday, acknowledging that "everybody's patience has been taxed."
"We are in the process of doing everything within our power to get resources down to the state of Florida," he said, requesting "everybody's patience and forbearance."
Chertoff also said companies that provide fuel and "able-bodied people" with resources have a duty to prepare for predictable disasters such as Wilma so FEMA can concentrate initially on those needing help the most.
Meanwhile, Miami International Airport was phasing in more flights daily as crews surveyed the facility and made needed repairs. (Full story)
Longtime residents and veterans of past hurricanes appeared surprised by the damage caused by Wilma, which roared ashore early Monday with 125 mph winds, storm surge flooding and heavy rain.
A firm that does catastrophe modeling for the insurance industry estimated insured losses from Wilma at between $6 billion and $9 billion -- a figure behind only Hurricane Katrina and 1992's Hurricane Andrew in terms of insured losses. (Full story)
Far to the north, New Englanders closely watched rivers for signs of flooding Wednesday after a nor'easter fueled by Wilma brought more rain to the soaked region. (Watch the Wilma-fueled nor'easter hit New England -- 2:21) (Full story)
Flights head to Mexico
Airline and State Department officials said at least nine U.S. commercial flights were flying to Mexico on Wednesday to rescue some of the 10,000 American tourists who've been stranded since Wilma hit the Yucatan Peninsula last week.
American Airlines was sending five flights, Continental Airlines four and United Airlines one, said spokesmen for the airlines. (Full story)
"We are hoping to continue that through the weekend," American spokesman John Hotard told CNN. (Watch thousands of tourists stranded in Mexico -- 1:15)
Mexicana Airlines flew 800 people on five flights Tuesday from Cancun to Mexico City, and four additional flights were planned for Wednesday.
A cruise ship also was sent to Cozumel to pick up Americans and take them to Fort Lauderdale free of charge, State Department officials said.
State Department officials estimate at least 8,000 Americans remain in hotels and shelters in Cancun, and another 2,000 are in Merida and 650 on Cozumel.
Meanwhile, the State Department has increased its staff in the region, and the consular officers are aiding American citizens, officials said.
"The conditions are not optimal, but they are improving," said Judith Bryan, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.
But some stranded Americans felt their government had left them "high and dry."
In Cancun, Kelli Michel said she and her family were among about 1,200 tourists taken to a university after the storm pounded the popular tourist area for two days.
"We have not seen or heard anybody in our government at our facility," she told CNN late Tuesday afternoon.
CNN's Allan Chernoff, Miles O'Brien and Elise Labott contributed to this report.
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