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South Florida Faces Long Recovery from Wilma


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Hurricane Wilma is gone, and across southern Florida people are starting to put things back together. The storm itself is still causing trouble in the Atlantic, contributing to a nor'easter that's pounding New England. But in Florida, the weather today was crisp and sparkling. As NPR's Phillip Davis reports from Miami, millions of people in the area know there are dark days and nights ahead.

PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:

Patricia Ferraro(ph) was standing outside her apartment on the western edge of Miami Beach. At the end of her street, masts and sails from a couple of big yachts leaned against the seawall along with bits of plywood that had been blown off the windows of her building when Wilma passed overhead yesterday. Ferraro said the sudden view was amazing.

Ms. PATRICIA FERRARO: And we were able to see things flying through the air, rushing--and water, like a river, rushing down the street. And it was like the scene in "The Wizard of Oz" when they were in the tornado and all that stuff was flying about. We kept saying, `Oh, what's that? Oh, what's that? What's that?' I mean, there were huge pieces of furniture and pieces of fence and life jackets and stoves and beams and amazing stuff. It was scary, very scary.

DAVIS: Down the road in Miami Beach, Ivan Rodriguez(ph) contemplated a 15-foot-wide banyan tree that had been uprooted and flung across his street. It took his mind off the damage done to his apartment by Wilma.

Mr. IVAN RODRIGUEZ: My roof--half of it came off. Then I have all the broken windows. And my extra room, it was flooded underwater. All my personal belongings, gone. All my clothes, my new furniture set, underwater.

DAVIS: Today, Miami is part ghost town, part beehive of energy. Traffic was light in many areas. Schools and universities are closed. About a million people didn't have power; five million statewide. And one can hear the birds that were once drowned out over the incessant hum of air conditioners. It could be weeks before power is restored.

But there were some signs that even after just one day, patience was growing thin because many people hadn't really expected Wilma to hit south Florida so hard. The county government promised to set up 11 food and water distribution centers by 2 PM. It was a tight deadline relief rescue workers scrambled to meet. Betty Busco(ph) is a spokeswoman for the Red Cross.

Ms. BETTY BUSCO (Spokeswoman, Red Cross): We're preparing to feed people now. We've been cooking in our kitchens around the clock since this morning. We're expecting a thousand meals now, which we'll replenish as those diminish here at this site.

DAVIS: But 2:00 came and went, and at the distribution center at the Hollywood greyhound racetrack south of Ft. Lauderdale, tempers began to flair. Juan Benjamin(ph) was one of the residents in line.

Mr. JUAN BENJAMIN: When they set up, it might take another hour before you get it. And now you have a curfew at 7:00, so you're putting a lot of people's life at risk.

DAVIS: Government officials preached that patience was a virtue. Jeb Bush is governor of Florida.

Governor JEB BUSH (Republican, Florida): Tomorrow's going to be better than today, and a week from now, the recovery will be full blown and people's lives will be put back together very quickly.

DAVIS: There were signs of progress, however. Power has come back in many parts of downtown, Miami Beach and the working-class enclave of Hialeah. Gas stations and some grocery stores also began to open here and there. But it will take many more such opening before people begin to think that their situation has improved. Phillip Davis, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Phillip Davis
Correspondent Phillip Davis covers South Florida and beyond for NPR. He joined NPR in January 1993, and has reported on such topics as the Elian Gonzalez affair, the disputed 2000 presidential election, and the growing cultural diversity of South Florida. Davis has also filed reports from England, West Africa, and South America for NPR. His pieces can be heard on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and All Things Considered.