Electricity restored to a few in Florida


MIAMI -- In a few lucky corners of South Florida, air conditioners hummed alive and the lights flicked on again yesterday.

But in most of the region, it was another day of tedium and anxiety for the millions still without electricity. Phones remained largely inoperable, and working gas stations were few.

Around Miami-Dade County, there were seeds of optimism, as parts of neighborhoods from Coral Gables to Aventura regained electricity. But progress was slower in Broward County, where 97 percent of customers who lost power remained in the dark through yesterday afternoon.

Florida Power and Light restored service to 156,100 Miami-Dade customers by 1 p.m. yesterday - about 16 percent of the county's affected customers. Company officials said nearly all homes in the southern half of the county should regain electricity by Nov. 8.

More than 1.6 million customers in the two counties were still in the dark last night. For many - particularly those in Broward - the darkness could continue until Nov. 22, FPL officials warned again yesterday.

In the absence of power, many residents focused on other needs.

After a day of frustration over late-arriving ice and water deliveries, emergency officials reported slow but steady distribution around the region yesterday.

Gov. Jeb Bush said the Federal Emergency Management Agency - harshly criticized for its sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans - was not to blame for the problems. "Don't blame FEMA. This is our responsibility," Bush said.

The governor's brother, President Bush, planned a visit today to South Florida, where the situation was less dire than in New Orleans. However, state officials did increase the number of dead attributed to Wilma to 10.

Port Everglades - the region's main fuel depot - resumed operations yesterday and began pumping out fuel. Lines of trucks idled for hours yesterday to deliver gasoline to service stations, which in turn need electricity to pump gas to customers.

"Tonight I expect a lot of gas stations to get fuel," said Jim Dion, transport dispatcher for Dion Oil of Homestead, which supplies about two dozen stations from Miami to the Keys. "We probably will get something into every gas station within the next two days."

Dion said a Florida City gas station that normally sells 5,000 gallons a week has been selling 2,000 gallons an hour this week.

In some places, the cool silence left behind Hurricane Wilma has filled with panic and rumor.

While thousands stood in lines around the region seeking gasoline, water and ice - with frustrations spilling over into the occasional scuffle and shout - Miami-Dade officials tried to tamp down rumors that the county was hoarding supplies and that Miami-Dade's drinking water was contaminated. The county's only boil-water notice, in Miami Beach, was lifted yesterday.

"If you live in Dade County and you're standing in line for water, go home," said County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez. "Open up the tap and drink all you want."

Miami-Dade officials also warned of legitimate dangers, urging weary residents to stop lighting barbecues and installing generators on high-rise balconies.

"It's a nightmare fighting a fire in a high-rise," said Miami-Dade Lt. Eric Baum. "We have enough problems with fires from generators at houses."

In apartments, generators and grills also pose the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. The odorless, tasteless and potentially lethal gas easily seeps into units - as well as neighboring apartments.

A Fort Lauderdale woman was hospitalized yesterday for carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator.

Officials also warned people to empty out their refrigerators of spoiling food out of fear of food poisoning. They anticipate an increasing number of storm-related injuries.

"You see things come in waves," Baum said, ticking off a list of potential risks: "People cutting themselves taking down shutters, using chainsaws. Carbon monoxide poisonings from generators. People are using candles, and you have kids running around and cats knocking them over."

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